Whitefish Lake Watershed Project receives international honor

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An aerial view of the Whitefish Lake Watershed.

A collaborative effort in recent years whose participants included state and federal agencies, conservation groups, timber and energy companies and a public land trust acquired and conserved 13,398 acres in Northwest Montana that was poised for potential residential development.

On April 23, that joint effort, referred to as the Whitefish Lake Watershed Project, won a Habitat Conservation Partnership Award during a Wings Across the Americas ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The event, co-hosted by the U.S. Forest Service International Programs and Environment for the Americas, recognized “exceptional efforts in advancing conservation for migratory species.”

The Whitefish Lake Watershed Project involved Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and The Trust for Public Land proposing to conserve more than 13,000 acres of high-quality forests, wetlands and endangered species habitat approximately 9 miles northwest of Whitefish.

The land was owned by Weyerhaeuser Co., and the Trust for Public Land acquired the entire project area from Weyerhaeuser in 2017.

The completion of the project placed the land under permanent protected status, managed by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for habitat conservation, public recreation and sustainable timber resources.

In a news release Friday, Martha Williams, director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, praised the collaborative effort and its outcome.

“This project shows what we can achieve when we work together and partner to conserve important habitat for migratory species,” Williams said. “It’s not easy, but it’s always worth it.

“FWP especially appreciates the commitment from Weyerhaeuser, The Trust for Public Land, Bonneville Power Administration, and DNRC, who have all helped to provide this opportunity to continue sustainable forest management, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, and provide for continued public enjoyment on these treasured lands.”

Project funding sources included, among others: Bonneville Power Administration; the Forest Service Forest Legacy Program; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grant; and, Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Habitat Montana Program.

The area’s low-elevation wetlands and meadows are home to many birds, bats, butterflies and dragonflies, along with other wildlife, such as grizzly bears, lynx and wolves.

The acquisition reportedly fills a gap in a large network of public lands providing critical wildlife habitat as well as significant economic drivers through recreation and timber.

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