Protecting Haskill Basin

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – In a major land conservation deal announced this week by Montana’s oldest family-owned lumber company, more than 3,000 acres of working forestlands in Haskill Basin would be permanently safeguarded from development.

The property, owned by the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. and located beside Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain, is highly vulnerable to the pressures of development and is the source of 75 percent of the municipal water supply in Whitefish. It is popular among the local outdoors community for hunting, hiking, mountain biking, Nordic skiing and horseback riding, and is home to a suite of wildlife.

The land also sits adjacent to the exclusive Iron Horse golf course community, which bristles with immense trophy homes and adds to its development potential. The deal between Stoltze and the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nonprofit land conservation organization, would ensure that the parcel is permanently protected for the benefit of water, wildlife and recreation, while still allowing sustainable timber management to continue.

Alex Diekmann, TPL project manager, said the agreement codifies the sustainable land management principles Stoltze is already committed to, but does so in perpetuity.

“Stoltze has been an awesome neighbor, and by and large the goal is to make sure we are carrying forward their commitment to sustainable practices,” Diekmann said. “This is really admirable of Stoltze. It benefits the ecosystem, the critters that use it, the public that uses it to recreate, and the city water supply.”

TPL has secured an option to purchase the development rights from Stoltze through the end of 2015. The conservation easement would be conveyed to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for long-term monitoring and enforcement.

“We are extremely pleased that we finally have an opportunity to put together a plan that will protect the city’s drinking water supply and allow us to continue supporting the local economy through our sustainable forest management operations,” Chuck Roady, Stoltze’s general manager, said in a statement. “Finding a mutually agreeable solution that supports our business and our dedicated employees but also provides long-term wildlife, public access and watershed protection benefits has been a high priority for the Stoltze family and our management team for many years.”

The project has also received strong support from the City of Whitefish and Mayor John Muhlfeld.

“Stoltze has always been an incredibly generous member of the local community, opening its lands for respectful public use and managing them in a way that preserves the quality of our water in Haskill Basin,” he said. “This agreement will guarantee perpetual public access for a wide range of recreational opportunities and guarantee that our municipal water supply is forever protected from development. I can’t think of a better legacy to leave for our community.”

TPL must conduct an appraisal of the land value and will seek funding from private and public sources.

Diekmann said he is confident the goal is within the nonprofit’s reach.

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