North Fork easement helps protect habitat

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The valley and adjacent wildlands of the North Fork of the Flathead River still host a remarkably diverse variety of flora and fauna.

For many residents of the region, the North Fork’s wildness merits conservation — helping to ensure the ongoing habitation by moose, bear, mountain lions, wolves, lynx, elk, fox, migratory birds and numerous other wildlife and rare plants.

On Tuesday, the Flathead Land Trust announced that the Kalispell-based nonprofit and North Fork property owner Molly Shepherd recently arranged to place 78 acres of Shepherd’s land in a conservation easement. The acreage is on a bench near the Trail Creek drainage in an area of the North Fork about 6 miles from the Canadian border.

“I’m really pleased to have done this,” Shepherd said. “It’s something I’ve meant to do for years. Above all, I think it’s in the best interests of the property.”

And of the North Fork, according to the Flathead Land Trust.

“The North Fork Flathead valley is one of the most ecologically intact and wild river valleys of the lower 48 states, where nearly all of the original species that existed prior to European settlement still roam the woods,” reported the organization.

Shepherd, who once practiced law in Missoula, bought the North Fork property in 1987. She said she had fallen in love with the North Fork soon after moving to Montana in 1975.

She took classes in land stewardship that helped her develop a plan for the property, Shepherd said.

After the 2003 Wedge Canyon Fire, which burned seven homes and numerous outbuildings and came within a quarter mile of Shepherd’s property, she worked with a Missoula-based architect to design a fire-resistant home of cinder blocks and steel.

Shepherd said she chose to work with Flathead Land Trust after researching her options and talking to people who had arranged conservation easements with the organization.

The easement on Shepherd’s 78 acres allows her to own and manage the property as she has for years. But it also “ensures that the property will never be subdivided or overly developed even after she passes it on to her heirs or it transfers to other owners, thus ensuring protection of its wildlife habitat and open space in perpetuity,” the Flathead Land Trust said.

Ryan Hunter of the trust said the organization has long focused on conserving the North Fork’s outstanding ecological values. He said working with Shepherd was a pleasure.

“I was so happy to be able to help Molly fulfill her, and our conservation goals for her beautiful property,” Hunter said.

The Flathead Land Trust has 386 acres of private land in the North Fork conserved through conservation easements and has helped to conserve an additional 1,112 acres in the area through partnerships.

The organization said it is working to conserve an additional 30 acres near Polebridge.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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