Environment

27,000 Acres of Timberland Slated for Conservation Near Libby

Proposed land deal on property owned by Stimson Lumber Company would protect wildlife habitat, secure recreation opportunities and maintain a working forest

By Tristan Scott
An aerial view of the proposed Kootenai Forestlands Project near Libby. Chris Boyer | Kestrel Aerial Services

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is seeking public comment on a proposal to purchase a conservation easement on more than 27,000 acres of timberland near Libby as part of an effort to protect the parcel for wildlife habitat and recreation while maintaining a working forest.

The property is currently owned by Stimson Lumber Company, which is one of the oldest continuously operating integrated wood products companies in the U.S., with roots dating back to the 1850s. Under the proposal, FWP would hold the conservation easement and Stimson would retain ownership of the land and continue to sustainably manage it for timber production. The easement would preclude development, protect important wildlife habitat and key landscape connectivity, and provide permanent public access and recreational opportunities on the property.

FWP has scheduled a public hearing for July 14 at 6 p.m. at the Libby City Hall to provide an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions about the proposed project and submit comments.

The project is designed to protect key winter range and a prominent migration corridor for elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and moose. In addition, it would help preserve critical habitat for bull trout, grizzly bear, and Canada lynx, which comprise the suite of species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The property currently provides over 26,500 days per year of public hunting and angling use — activities that would be secured in perpetuity under the easement proposal. 

It also would connect existing easements, amounting to a landscape-scale conservation effort linking prime habitat spanning the northwest corner of the state.

“Completion of this project would build on the success of the nearby Forest Legacy Program-funded 142,000-acre Thompson-Fisher Conservation Easement, the 28,000-acre Kootenai Valleys Conservation Easement, and the 22,295-acre Kootenai Forestlands Phase I Conservation Easement, which was the first phase of this project,” according to a press release from FWP. “Forest Legacy projects in Montana and Idaho have cumulatively helped to conserve over 300,000 acres of working forestlands that remain in private ownership while securing permanent public access and habitat conservation.”

More information on the proposed conservation easement is available online under Public Notices or at https://fwp.mt.gov/public-notices/news/2021/jun/0629_kootenaiforestlandsce.

Public comments on the draft environmental assessment should be submitted by 5 p.m. on July 28. Email ktempel@mt.gov or mail comments to Kris Tempel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 490 North Meridian Road, Kalispell, Mont., 59901. For more information, contact Kris Tempel at the email address above or at (406) 249-7481.

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