Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has recommended that wildlife commissioners approve an effort to conserve a chunk of prime Weyerhaeuser property located approximately nine miles northwest of Whitefish.
Following an environmental assessment, the agency issued a finding of no significant impact for the Lazy Creek portion of the project. The entire project would place more than 13,300 acres under two conservation easements.
The conservation and recreation community has praised the easements because they protect critical fish and wildlife habitat and provide continued public access for outdoor recreation, while also securing the city of Whitefish’s water supply, 20 percent of which is drawn from Whitefish Lake.
Coupled with the nearby Haskill Basin project on land owned by F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. — the source of the city’s remaining water supply — the Whitefish Lake Conservation Project affords the final safeguard from threats of development on land owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company.
Under the proposal, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) would acquire the entire project area from Weyerhaeuser by the end of September 2017. FWP would purchase the Lazy Creek Conservation Easement on 16 sections, or about 10,218 acres, of the property in two phases with a combination of federal and state funding.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation would purchase the underlying fee ownership from TPL once the conservation easement is in place. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) would provide funding for the purchase of the remaining five sections, or roughly 3,180 acres, in the Swift Creek watershed.
In exchange for their funding, BPA would retain a perpetual conservation easement of the Swift Creek parcel with ownership of these sections being transferred to either DNRC or FWP.
The Whitefish Lake Watershed Project Environmental Assessment evaluated the proposed FWP actions of purchasing the Lazy Creek Conservation Easement and the potential for FWP to assume ownership of five sections in the Swift Creek drainage. DNRC’s potential actions are subject to a separate review and approval process.
“FWP appreciates the commitment from Weyerhaeuser, TPL, BPA, and DNRC, who have all helped to provide this opportunity to continue sustainable forest management, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, and provide for continued public enjoyment on these treasured lands,” said Jim Williams, regional supervisor for FWP in Kalispell.