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Environment

13,000 Acres of Private Timberland Permanently Protected in Lost Trail Conservation Area

The new conservation easement by Trust for Public Land, Green Diamond Resource Company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows public access while ensuring sustainable timber harvests

By Tristan Scott
View southeast toward the Lost Trail Conservation Project. Courtesy photo

A new conservation project that could eventually preserve public access to 150,000 acres of timberland in northwest Montana began its journey-work Thursday when Green Diamond Resource Company, the largest private landowner in the state, announced an agreement to permanently protect 13,403 acres of working forest spanning portions of Flathead and Lincoln counties — the first in a series of projects stretching between Kalispell and Libby.

Federal land managers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and conservation leaders with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL) helped bring the project to completion and, along with local and statewide elected officials, joined Thursday in cheering the conservation easement, which is located within the Lost Trail Conservation Area west of Kalispell and comes amid intensifying development pressure across the region.

“Safeguarding 13,000 acres within the Lost Trail Conservation Area, Trust for Public Land has not only preserved a slice of wild Montana, but we’ve secured a legacy for future generations,” Dick Dolan, TPL’s Northern Rockies director, said. “Each acre protected through this ongoing partnership with Green Diamond stands as a testament to our commitment to ensuring this remarkable landscape will remain undeveloped and accessible to all Montanans.”

The land deal marks the second conservation easement within the Lost Trail Conservation Area, which was established in 2022, resulting in over 51,400 acres conserved so far. The Lost Trail Conservation Area designation provides the opportunity to conserve up to 100,000 additional acres using conservation easements through collaboration with landowners and other partners.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is excited to add another high resource parcel into the Lost Trail Conservation Area. Ensuring the layered public benefits while staying in private ownership as working timberland, this project represents a win for the local communities that rely on the timber industry, public land users, and conservation,” Ben Gilles, the Western Montana Refuge Complex Project lead for the FWS, said.

The newly conserved 13,403-acre property lies just south and west of the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge and connects to other public and conserved private lands. FWS will hold the conservation easement on the property, and Green Diamond will continue to own and manage the land.

“This arrangement ensures a continued timber supply to the wood products industry, which has been affected by closures over the past few months,” the joint announcement states.

From a conservation standpoint, the property helps furnish a suite of wildlife species, including grizzly bears, with an unbroken corridor that allows them to travel between the Northern Continental Divide and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems.

A map depicting the Lost Trail Conservation Area between Kalispell and Libby. Courtesy of Trust for Public Land

Funding for the conservation easement was made possible through the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The project would not have been possible without the partnership and conservation mindset of Green Diamond Resource Company, the announcement states.

“Green Diamond Resource Company has acquired nearly 300,000 acres in Montana. As the largest private forestland owner in the State, we are committed to playing a role in both the conservation of a viable local timber industry and the continuation of recreational access for the people of Montana. Partnering with TPL and USFWS made this possible at the Lost Trail Conservation Area,” Douglas Reed, president of Green Diamond Resource Company, said.

The conservation easement complements the 38,052 acres conserved with Southern Pine Plantation in the Lost Trail Conservation Area in 2022 and adds to the 350,000 acres of forest land in northwest Montana that has been conserved over the past 20 years. It builds on other conservation projects such as the nearby 142,200-acre Thompson-Fisher Conservation Easement, the 7,956-acre Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, the 27,289-acre Kootenai Forestlands Phase II Conservation Easement, and the future 85,792-acre Montana Great Outdoors Project currently being worked on by Green Diamond and TPL.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is critically important to Montana’s public lands and the recreational economy they support — and the Lost Trail Conservation Area is a testament to the fund’s continued impact on the Treasure State,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement. “Trust for Public Land has been a proud partner since day one, and this project is a win for the local communities and for public land users alike. Now, more than 13,000 acres of additional land will be protected – a big step forward to boost our state’s economy and ensure Montana’s treasured public lands and way of life are around for generations to come.”

“Our diverse wildlife and lush forests help make Montana special. Keeping working timberlands productive, safeguarding important wildlife habitats and permanently ensuring public access to these landscapes are essential to preserving and protecting the great outdoors for future generations of Montanans to enjoy,”U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said in a prepared statement.

TPL has conserved over 600,000 acres in Montana over the past 20 years, creating a legacy of public access for future generations. Currently, the organization’s goal is to conserve an additional 200,000 acres over the next three years, including another 4,468 acres with Green Diamond in the Lost Trail Conservation Area that is anticipated to close next year. This ambitious conservation effort is possible thanks to the support of local governments, State Agencies and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, this goal might be accomplished.

“Ensuring that working timberlands remain working while also preserving permanent public access strikes the right balance of economic viability and public benefit,” Flathead County Commissioner Randy Brodehl said in a prepared statement.

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