Land trust, Stoltze working on deal to protect 3,000 acres

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F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. and the Trust for Public Land have announced a plan that could permanently protect more than 3,000 acres of working forest in the Haskill Basin, which accounts for most of Whitefish’s water supply.

The trust has secured an option through the end of 2015 to purchase development rights from Stoltze, guaranteeing that the land would be permanently protected for water, wildlife and recreation, as well as continued sustainable forest management.

But the plan that was announced Wednesday depends on funding. The trust will raise money from donors and public funding sources to make the conservation pursuit a reality.

“This project has it all,” said Alex Diekmann, the trust’s project manager. “Not only do we have an opportunity to protect incredibly high scenic, wildlife, timber and public access values, but we also have the ability to protect the city of Whitefish’s main water supply. I can’t think of a better win-win situation for everyone involved.”

The Stoltze land straddles the Haskill Basin drainage, which provides about 75 percent of Whitefish’s municipal water supply.

Diekmann said it is part of about 13,000 acres Stoltze owns between Columbia Falls and Whitefish, but it is considered the most “at-risk” because it is the most prone to development with its proximity the Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Iron Horse golf course community.

Diekmann said no price has been negotiated yet. “That will be subject to a rigorous appraisal process,” Diekmann said.

Chuck Roady, general manager for Stoltze, said it is the type of arrangement for that block of land that the company has been seeking for a long time.

“It just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while to work through ... We’re pretty picky about how we would do anything like that because we regard our land very highly,” he said.

“We are extremely pleased that we finally have an opportunity to put together a plan that will protect the city’s drinking water supply and allow us to continue supporting the local economy through our sustainable forest management operations,” Roady said.

“Finding a mutually agreeable solution that supports our business and our dedicated employees but also provides long-term wildlife, public access and watershed protection benefits has been a priority for the Stoltze family and our management team for many years.”

The conservation easement, once agreed to, would be conveyed to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for long-term monitoring and enforcement.

Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld strongly supports the project.

“This is very exciting news,” Muhlfeld said. “Stoltze has always been an incredibly generous member of the local community, opening its lands for respectful public use and managing them in a way that preserves the quality of our water in Haskill Basin. This agreement will guarantee perpetual public access for a wide range of recreational opportunities and ensure that our municipal water supply is forever protected from development. I can’t think of a better legacy to leave for our community.”

The project also got praise from Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester.

“Promoting our outdoor heritage supports jobs and ensures that our kids and grandkids can enjoy the places that make our state so special,” Baucus said. “This project will protect our outdoor heritage, support timber access and protect the water supply families and businesses rely on in Whitefish.”

“F.H. Stoltze is a leader in smart resource management,” added Tester, “and this partnership will make sure that Montanans can enjoy an important part of the Flathead for years to come.”

Founded in 1972, the nonprofit Trust for Public Lands operates from more than 30 offices nationwide, protecting more than 3 million acres and helping steer more than $34 billion in public funds toward conservation efforts.

Stoltze is Montana’s oldest family-owned lumber company. The firm was founded in 1912 although it had its genesis in the State Lumber Co. that began in 1891.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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