Land deal protects over 7,000 acres near Whitefish

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  • The Lazy Creek Conservation Easement Phase 1 is seen within the red boundaries. Future proposed phases include adjacent lands that are not part of the first-phase conservation easement. (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)

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    The conservation easement will protect nearly 11 square miles that will be added to Stillwater State Forest and will include Meadow Lake. (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)

  • The Lazy Creek Conservation Easement Phase 1 is seen within the red boundaries. Future proposed phases include adjacent lands that are not part of the first-phase conservation easement. (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)

  • 1

    The conservation easement will protect nearly 11 square miles that will be added to Stillwater State Forest and will include Meadow Lake. (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)

Stillwater State Forest is set to gain more than 7,000 acres, thanks to a deal between multiple private, state and federal entities.

On Tuesday, the Trust for Public Land announced that it had purchased the land, located east of U.S. 93 near Olney, from Seattle-based timber firm Weyerhaeuser.

According to its press release, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks then purchased a conservation easement requiring sustainable management practices in the area. Then, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation purchased the land, with its easement, from the Trust.

The easement cost $15.5 million, funded by the state, private partners and the federal government. Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson Dillon Tabish said the land price is confidential.

This deal adds about 11 square miles to Stillwater, already the largest state forest in Montana. And conservation advocates aim to add more. This land transfer completes phase one of the Whitefish Lake Watershed Project, which aims to conserve almost 13,400 acres of Weyerhaeuser property north of Whitefish.

That goal enjoys support from the many state, federal and private entities managing the area’s lands.

“This remarkable land provides important habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife and protects waters that are critical for Whitefish’s water supply,” said Noreen Walsh, Mountain-Prairie Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This acquisition ensures permanent protection for one of the last remaining unprotected habitats in this unparalleled landscape, will create additional recreational activities for the public, ensure sustainable forest management and maintain the area’s proud tradition of working lands.”

The federal government helped fund the purchase price through its Land and Water Conservation Fund. Other funding sources included the state, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Walmart’s Acres for America Program, the Whitefish Community Foundation and several individual donors.

Montana’s two senators were among those welcoming the deal. Listing its benefits, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., called it a “win-win-win-win-win.” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., meanwhile, remarked that “It’s good to see federal, state and private partners come together to protect public access and timber management.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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