Outdoors

FWP Recommends Approval of Conservation Easement Near Libby

Project would conserve more than 22,000 acres and support public access, critical wildlife habitat and sustainable forest management

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have recommended that the Fish and Wildlife Commission approve the purchase of a conservation easement near Libby called the Kootenai Forestlands Conservation Project.

As proposed in the preferred alternative of the environmental assessment (EA), the recommendation would protect approximately 22,295 acres of productive timberland, fisheries and wildlife habitat in northwestern Montana’s Lincoln County

FWP released a draft EA for public comment from May 30 to June 29 and held a public hearing in Libby on June 12. FWP received 12 public comments, all of which were addressed in the decision notice.

The Kootenai Forestlands Conservation Project is a proposal by FWP and The Trust for Public Land (TPL) to conserve land owned by Stimson Lumber Company and is a collaborative effort between the three entities. The proposed conservation easement, to be held by FWP, would allow Stimson to retain ownership of the timberlands, preclude development, protect important wildlife habitat and key landscape connectivity, and provide permanent public access and associated recreational opportunities.

Hunting opportunities would continue to exist on the property for elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, black bear, mountain lion, wolf, turkeys and forest grouse. The property provides high-quality winter range for moose, elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer, as well as habitat for 43 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (2015 State Wildlife Action Plan), and includes federally designated critical habitat for ESA-listed Canada lynx, grizzly bear and bull trout. Completion of the project would permanently secure free public access for hunting, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and other outdoor activities.

The scattered parcels of this project share 133 miles of border with the Kootenai National Forest. An increasing number of homes and developments in Lincoln County have occurred in the wildland-urban interface, and completion of the project could reduce taxpayer-funded costs of firefighting by 50-95 percent and prescribed fire by 43 percent, according to FWP. The agency also says it would also reduce human-wildlife conflicts that come with residential development of properties within wildlife habitat, especially those with grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lions.

“This collaborative project will maintain traditional uses and public access while protecting valuable fish and wildlife habitat at the same time,” Jim Williams, Regional Supervisor for FWP in Kalispell, said.