Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public comment on a proposal to purchase a conservation easement that would eliminate the development potential of approximately 22,295 acres of working timberland while protecting fisheries and wildlife habitat.
The parcels are owned by Stimson Lumber Company, and the proposed conservation easement is the product a collaborative effort between the company, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the Trust for Public Land. The easement would be held by FWP, and would allow Stimson to retain the timberlands and “continue to manage them using sustainable forest practices” while protecting valuable fish and wildlife habitat by precluding development on the property, according to a press release from the state agency.
In addition to protecting key landscape connectivity, the easement would provide permanent public access and associated recreational opportunities like hunting, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and other outdoor activities, according to the proposal.
FWP officials have scheduled a public hearing for June 12 at 6 p.m. at the Libby City Hall, Ponderosa Room, 952 E. Spruce Street. The event will provide interested organizations and individuals an opportunity to ask questions about the proposed project and submit public comment.
The property, which shares 133 miles of border with the Kootenai National Forest, currently provides public hunting access, according to FWP. It also provides winter range for moose, elk, white-tailed deer, and mule deer, as well as habitat for 43 species listed as having a “Greatest Conservation Need” in Montana’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan. The land includes federally designated critical habitat for three threatened species: Canada lynx, grizzly bear, and bull trout.
In a 2007 study entitled “National Forests on the Edge,” the U.S. Forest Service identified national forests throughout the country facing the most increased risks and alterations from escalating housing development on private rural lands along their boundaries. The Stimson project lands were identified as a moderate risk area.
FWP is seeking comment until June 29 on a draft environmental assessment that describes the scope of the project. The primary objectives of this project are to: conserve important fish and wildlife habitat; continue sustainable commercial forest management; and maintain public recreation access into the future.
Following completion of the draft environmental assessment and review of the public comments, the FWP Region 1 supervisor will issue a decision notice that makes a recommendation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission on a course of action.
A copy of the draft environmental assessment is available at the FWP Region 1 office, 490 N. Meridian Rd., Kalispell; Montana State Library, 1515 E 6th Ave., Helena; FWP State Headquarters, 1420 E 6th Ave., Helena; and online at http://fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/.