Haskill Basin Project Open House Planned

By Beacon Staff

The proposed protection of land and water in Whitefish’s Haskill Basin is moving forward with broad support, and city officials will update the public on the conservation project’s progress at a June 17 meeting.

The project seeks to protect more than 3,000 acres in Haskill Basin near Whitefish. 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.

Last year, Stoltze and the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation organization, reached a deal that would keep the land permanently protected for water, wildlife and recreation uses, while still allowing Stoltze’s sustainable timber management to continue.

The project has support from Montana’s congressional delegation, as well as Whitefish’s mayor and city council.

In March, the project was named the nation’s top-ranked working forest conservation project for the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service ranks such projects for funding through its Forest Legacy Program, which awards grants to states to purchase permanent conservation easements and other property interests that protect forest land resources.

With its No. 1 spot, the Haskill Basin Watershed Project is slated to receive $7 million in Legacy Project funding. The top ranking will give the project a significant boost toward raising the $17 million needed to buy the development rights from Stoltze by the end of 2015.
The June 17 meeting at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish begins at 7 p.m., and will involve group discussions of the community’s role in bringing the project to fruition.

Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns said that includes philanthropic involvement by the Whitefish Legacy Partners as well as taxpayer contributions in the form of a bond issue.

“We definitely want the public to come out, be aware of the project and offer their input,” Stearns said.

There were a total of 44 projects considered for the Legacy Project funding, and the Haskill Basin project outpaced the rest in terms of funding, with the Clagstone Meadows project in Idaho getting the second-highest amount at $5.5 million.

Haskill Basin’s spot as the highest priority project is part of the Forest Service’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015.

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