GREAT FALLS —The Nature Conservancy has completed purchasing more than 257-square-miles of forestlands in Montana and Washington as part of a program to protect habitat for bull trout, lynx, elk and mule deer.
The $134 million deal that closed Thursday saw international wood products giant Plum Creek Timber Inc. transfer ownership of large tracts of Plum Creek’s higher-altitude, lower production timber lands to the environmental conservation organization.
“This project helps protect critical habitat for bull trout, lynx, elk and mule deer in Montana’s spectacular 10-million-acre Crown of the Continent,” said Richard Jeo, director of The Nature Conservancy of Montana.
He said the area is emerging as a key part of Montana’s multi-million dollar recreation economy for hunting, fishing and recreation that attract visitors from around the world, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
The Great Western Checkerboards Project, as the land deal is known, includes 117,152 acres of land adjacent to Lolo National Forest in western Montana. The Montana purchase extends from the Blackfoot River east of Missoula, north beyond Placid Lake along the western edge of the Clearwater River corridor.
Another 48,000 acres of Plum Creek land was purchased concurrently in the deal, extending nearly 25 miles down the eastern slopes of Cascade Mountains in Washington, between Snoqualmie Pass and Ellensburg.
Jeo said some forest restoration is needed.
He said the goal now is to figure how to conserve and protect the land while also allowing people to access and use it.