FWP Seeks Comment on Haskill, Trumbull Easements

Purchase of easements planned on 10,000 acres to be discussed at public hearing Nov. 9

By Tristan Scott
A tour of F. H. Stoltze land in Haskill Basin on Sept. 4, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is moving forward with the proposed purchase of two conservation easements totaling 10,000 acres in Haskill and Trumbull creek basins, and is seeking public comment on a management plan that will ultimately dictate use on the parcels, both of which are owned by F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co.

Known collectively as the South Whitefish Range Conservation Project, the agency has released its draft environmental assessment and is accepting public comment until Nov. 22. The project includes two easements: the 3,020-acre Haskill Basin property and the 7,150-acre Trumbull Creek property northwest of Columbia Falls.

The projects rely on separate funding sources, but have been rolled into the same project due to their proximity and similarities, including analogs between their wildlife habitat, working forestlands, recreational uses, and proposed management actions.

“They share a lot of similarities and they are right next door to one another, so it’s really difficult to talk about the consequences of one and not the other,” Alan Wood, the resource conservation manager for the region’s FWP office, said.

The stated purpose of the easements is for Stoltze to maintain its working forestlands while protecting fish and wildlife habitat, as well as public access and recreation, from development; in the case of Haskill Basin, the easement would also preserve Whitefish’s municipal water supply.

Increased pressure for development in the area spurred the easements in the scenic watersheds, and the draft Environmental Assessment notes “much of the high-end residential market in the local area is driven by views, making the properties prime candidates for future luxury home development.

The city of Whitefish derives 75 percent of its municipal water supply from Second and Third creeks in Haskill Basin, and previously abandoned a water intake at First Creek due to contamination from nearby developments.

Whitefish residents in April voted overwhelmingly to increase the city’s resort tax by 1 percentage point to pay for its share of the Haskill easement.

Wood said the public hearing would focus on the conservation easement and the Multi-resource Management Plan, which he described as more flexible than the conservation easement document.

Stoltze values the Haskill land at $20.6 million, but has offered to sell it for $17 million. Earlier this year, the project received a $7 million funding boost from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program.

An additional $2 million will come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Program, while the city of Whitefish will provide the remaining $7.7 million needed to buy the development rights from Stoltze.

The Trumbull Basin easement was last appraised at $12.7 million and will be paid for by $8.5 million in federal grants, including $6.5 million from the Forest Legacy Program and $2 million from the Habitat Conservation and Land Acquisition Program, $1 million from private donors and $3.2 million in donated land from Stoltze.

If all goes as planned, the Haskill easement will be purchased in February 2016 and the Trumbull easement by the end of next year.

The public hearing on the proposed conservation easement will be Nov. 9 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the temporary City Hall building in Whitefish, 1005 Baker Ave.

Copies of the draft are available at the agency’s Kalispell office at 490 N. Meridian Rd. and online at fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/environmentalAssessments/conservation/pn_0027.html.

Written comments are due Nov. 22 and can be mailed to South Whitefish Range Conservation Project, FWP, 490 Meridian Road, Kalispell, 59901, or emailed to nivy@mt.gov.

For more information, contact Wood at (406) 751-4595 or by email at awood@mt.gov.

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