News & Features

Haskill Basin Considered by Legacy Program

Proponents of conservation easement look to federal program for assistance

A ranking committee with Montana’s Forest Legacy Program recently toured Haskill Basin to determine if a major land conservation deal to protect more than 3,000 acres of forestland in Whitefish is eligible for assistance under the program.

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, proponents of the easement say, and is the source of 75 percent of the municipal water supply in Whitefish. It is home to grizzly bears, Canada lynx and westslope cutthroat trout, and is popular among the local outdoors community for hunting, hiking, mountain biking, Nordic skiing and horseback riding.

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

The legacy program is designed to conserve forestlands by assisting with the purchase of conservation easements, which allow land to remain in private ownership – in this case, by Stoltze – while ensuring that it won’t be compromised by development.

To be eligible for the Forest Legacy Program, the parcel of land must meet a host of requirements – the landowner must be willing to sell the land, the parcel must be in an environmentally important forest that is threatened by development, the property must be more than 5 acres and must have an approved forest management plan.

Chuck Roady, Stoltze’s general manager, was on hand at the tour to answer questions about the land.

“They wanted to know about its potential to be subdivided and developed, and it took about five minutes for them to see that the potential is high,” Roady said.

Stoltze is widely recognized as an ideal steward of the land, but its Haskill property is flanked by high-ticket development projects like the Iron Horse golf course, the Lookout Ridge subdivision, the Ptarmigan Village condominiums and Whitefish Mountain Resort.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to envision Haskill Basin and its ample wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities transformed by condos and trophy homes.

Roady said committee members were impressed with what they saw.

“They liked it,” he said.

Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns joined the tour, which included the city’s water treatment plant, to answer questions about the municipal water supply, 75 percent of which comes from intakes on Second and Third creeks on Haskill Basin.

TPL has secured an option to purchase the development rights from Stoltze through the end of 2015. The conservation easement, which hinges on securing an as yet undisclosed amount of money, would be conveyed to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for long-term monitoring and enforcement.

Once the state committee determines the project’s ranking, a national committee will conduct its own assessment.

To learn more about the Trust for Public Land’s efforts to protect Haskill Basin contact Molly Pickall at (406) 522-7450, ext. 6, or at molly.pickall@tpl.org.