Montana Delegation Says Kootenai Forestland Project a Priority

Tester, Daines and Gianforte press Forest Service to approve conservation easement

By Tristan Scott
Snow-capped peaks in the Cabinet Mountain Range rise above clouds near Libby. Beacon File Photo

The state’s congressional delegation is urging the U.S. Forest Service to prioritize a 22,275-acre conservation easement near the Kootenai National Forest, saying it will strengthen the local economy, protect wildlife and create jobs.

U.S. Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, and Democrat Jon Tester joined Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte in throwing their support behind an agreement between Stimson Lumber Company and the state of Montana to unlock the private land for timber harvests, wildlife habitat conservation and recreation access.

“The Kootenai Forestlands Project will not only have significant economic benefits, but will also provide critical conservation gains,” the delegates wrote in a joint letter. “Protecting these lands also means protecting our state’s clean water, and the protected and game species that support our outdoor heritage.”

At the request of local businesses, the delegation is asking the Forest Service to approve funding for the conservation easement under the Forest Legacy Program, which maximizes public benefits of privately owned forests.

Tester spokesperson Marnee Banks said $6 million in federal money requested for the easement represents 75 percent of the cost. The remaining 25 percent would come as a contribution in the form of donated land from Portland, Oregon-based Stimson Lumber.

“Obtaining a conservation easement for this site would protect these lands from development, and allow sustainable timber harvest to keep producing four million board feet of timber and $5.25 million in economic activity each year, along with 20 full-time jobs,” wrote Tester, Daines and Gianforte.