State Finalizes Purchase of Popular Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bought 772 acres near Columbia Falls for its new Wildlife Management Area along the Flathead River

By Tristan Scott
Aerial view of the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project, which encompasses 800 acres along the south bank of the Flathead River east of Columbia Falls as seen on March 9, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has finalized its purchase of 772 acres of intact forestland along the Flathead River near Columbia Falls, which the state will now manage as critical fish and wildlife habitat, protecting a suite of species and precluding development along the scenic river corridor while still allowing public access.

The state officially bought the property on Dec. 21, completing the highly anticipated transaction with former landowner Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC), a subsidiary of Glencore, Inc. FWP will now manage the property as the Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area.

“CFAC is extremely pleased to see the unanimous support for this project and we are pleased to be a partner in the project,” Cheryl Driscoll, head of U.S. Corporate Affairs for Glencore, Inc., said in a prepared statement. “The Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area will preserve a section of Montana that residents, visitors and future generations can enjoy. I congratulate everyone who worked so diligently to make this a reality. The Flathead Land Trust and FWP are to be commended for leading this collaborative effort.”

The property is located just east of Columbia Falls and south of the Flathead River and is one of the Flathead Valley’s largest remaining undeveloped riverfront properties. It serves as critical winter range for elk, moose and white-tailed deer, and provides important habitat connectivity for grizzly bears, bull trout and 43 other wildlife species identified as having unique conservation needs. In addition, the property’s wetlands and riparian habitat help safeguard the water quality of the Flathead River and Flathead Lake.  

“Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is grateful for the outpouring of community support and hard work by our partners to achieve this exciting project,” said Jim Williams, regional supervisor for FWP, who helped usher the deal to fruition. “Collaboration is the key to successful conservation. This new protected forestland will benefit the entire watershed, wildlife and the public for generations to come.”

The protected property will add to a 12,000-acre network of conserved land along 50 miles of the Flathead River and Flathead Lake downstream of Columbia Falls, where community leaders marshaled widespread support for the project. 

“The City of Columbia Falls is thrilled to have the Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area purchase finalized. This area greatly enhances and gives the citizens of Columbia Falls and the surrounding area a wonderful opportunity to recreate and enjoy the pristine nature of this land and access to the beautiful Flathead River, right next door to our community,” according to a statement from Columbia Falls Mayor Don Barnhart and the members of its city council.

The acquisition also secures permanent public access to the property, which will include a limited opportunity for hunting and a three-mile community trail constructed by Gateway to Glacier Trail, Inc. for use by hikers, bikers, birdwatchers and others. However, because FWP’s Wildlife Management Areas are managed with wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation as the priority, the property will be closed to the public Dec. 2 through noon on May 15 each year to protect the winter range of elk.

FWP partnered with the Flathead Land Trust to purchase and conserve the property two years ago, and CFAC entered into an option agreement with the partners allowing until the end of 2021 to raise the funds and complete the purchase.  

With the appraised value of the acquisition pegged at $7.26 million, funding for the purchase included $4 million from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, which is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), as well as $2.5 million from Habitat Montana, which uses big game license fees for habitat conservation. Flathead Land Trust was tasked with raising the remaining $590,000 with help from funding partners, the Flathead Lakers. The majority of the donations were from local individuals and organizations as well as large grants from Heart of the Rockies Initiative, The Kendeda Fund, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, AGL Foundation, Cinnabar Foundation, Cross Charitable Foundation, Whitefish Community Foundation, Headwaters Montana, Montana Trout Unlimited, Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited, Flathead Wildlife, Flathead Audubon, and Vital Ground Foundation. Large donations from individuals were also received from Dean Marsh, David and Chet Barclay, Bob and Betty Moore, Molly Miller and Mark Jungerman, Walter Rowntree and Laura Reynolds, George and Kimberly Ruhana, and an anonymous donor. Over 250 individuals stepped up to financially contribute to the project. “We have finally reached the finish line of what was only a dream two years ago,” Flathead Land Trust Executive Director Paul Travis said in a statement. “The extraordinary level of local support is truly why this critical block of land is now conserved and in public hands. Thank you to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, CFAC, and our many other partners and donors for ensuring this wild place would be protected for this and future generations to enjoy.”