This time of year is always one where I spend some time pondering the past and considering the future. One of the first things that always comes is how fortunate I am to live here in Montana. We live in a truly special place. Our heritage is woven together by generations of Montanans from diverse backgrounds, with different skills who have protected that heritage through foresight, creativity and vision. This past holiday season Montana families like mine and yours gathered around fireplaces to celebrate traditions that are born from this heritage.
These traditions, this heritage, this place called Montana is a gift to each of us – so too is it a responsibility. For as I look forward to 2009 and beyond I understand, as I think every Montanan does, that paying this gift forward means that our generation must join past generations in rolling up our sleeves to make sure our children and grandchildren can enjoy the same Montana we enjoy today.
One of the ways we do that is to conserve Montana’s special places. In 2009, we have a unique opportunity to protect an important part of Montana’s landscape by joining our voices to support the Montana Legacy Project. The Montana Legacy Project is a land conservation purchase agreement between Plum Creek Timber Co., the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy that will protect some 312,000 acres of land in the Swan, Blackfoot and Fish Creek drainages in Northwest Montana.
Over the past 30 years, The Montana Land Reliance has, with the use of conservation easements, helped private property owners protect more than 800,000 acres of land, including more than 1,300 miles of streambed. In the Swan Valley alone, MLR has worked with private landowners to complete 30 conservation easements protecting 5,357 acres of historically and ecologically significant land. Our easements establish a balance between the presence of man and needs of nature, and are crafted to allow responsible management activities that make our economy strong, keep our communities close knit, and allow our incredible wild lands to remain intact.
In 2000, in conjunction with other groups and in response to the reorganization of Plum Creek Timber Co. from a timber company to a real estate investment trust, The Montana Land Reliance was asked to participate in the Swan Lands Coordinating Committee. This committee, which included local community members, private non-profit conservation groups, and a number of public agencies, was coordinated with the Swan Ecosystem Center in Condon. The committee developed strategies aimed at restoring and protecting timberlands, ecological and recreational resources, while maintaining the area’s rural economy and way of life. As has been the case since The Montana Land Reliance completed its first easement in the Swan Valley in 1993, the role of The Montana Land Reliance in the committee process was to focus on our mission of private land conservation and on educating new landowners on how conservation can have a positive impact on both their property and the adjoining properties in those neighborhoods.
While the majority of land involved in the Montana Legacy Project will transfer to either the U.S. Forest Service or the state of Montana, some lands will remain in private ownership. Involvement of the Montana Land Reliance would be limited to those lands that will be privately held. The Montana Land Reliance continues to focus on working with private landowners to complete conservation easements, and remains dedicated to assisting landowners with conserving the timber heritage and traditional land uses of this unique place.
The Montana Legacy Project embodies the spirit of our state – people with diverse backgrounds, different skills and viewpoints, coming together to weave the colorful tapestry that is Montana. The Legacy Project is not perfect – nothing is – and some people will like certain features better than others. That is natural. But taken as a whole, the Legacy Project represents a unique opportunity for Montana’s current and future generations. Sitting down and sharing our vision for tomorrow, respectful of each other and the landscape that surrounds us, enriches us as Montanans. When the Montana Legacy Project is fully implemented, all of us will have taken advantage of an opportunity to do something significant to protect Montana’s landscape for future generations. It is a gift worth giving. Let’s not pass it up.
Carol Bibler is a member of the Montana Land Reliance Board of Directors
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