New conservation easement protects North Fork land

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Del and Linda Coolidge took this photograph on their property on the North Fork. The Coolidges have donated a conservation easement to Flathead Land Trust. (Courtesy photo)

The North Fork of the Flathead River valley retains the sort of comparatively intact habitat in which wildlife thrives.

This same habitat seems to inspire in many of the people who share it with four-legged animals, migratory birds, rare plants and wild fish a sense of obligation to serve as stewards.

On Friday, the Flathead Land Trust announced that Del and Linda Coolidge, landowners in the Polebridge area, had donated a conservation easement to the nonprofit that will “conserve in perpetuity” 30 acres of scenic open space important for wildlife.

Flathead Land Trust said the newly conserved property adjoins 31 acres placed into a conservation easement with Flathead Land Trust in 1996 by John Frederick.

In a news release, the trust said the two easements “help to better ensure that the North Fork Flathead River valley remains one of the most ecologically intact and wild river valleys of the Lower 48 states.”

The trust said the Coolidge easement will help preserve the wildlife corridor around Polebridge that connects the federally protected lands of Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest and help to retain the open space character of the Polebridge area.

Placing the property into a conservation easement with the Flathead Land Trust allows the Coolidges to own and manage the property as they always have, but ensures that the property will never be subdivided or overly developed even after they pass it on to heirs or it transfers to subsequent owners, thus ensuring protection of its wildlife habitat and open space in perpetuity, the trust said.

“Our Polebridge property has been owned by the Coolidge family since 1969,” said Del and Linda Coolidge in a news release.

“Betty and Pep Coolidge strongly advocated protection of open space for wildlife,” the Coolidges said. “They would be proud to know that the property is now protected by a conservation easement with the Flathead Land Trust.”

The Coolidges said that wildlife, including bears, wolves, elk and many other species need corridors and undeveloped space where humans don’t intrude.

“Hopefully, our modest contribution will inspire other landowners to protect part or all of their land with a conservation easement that benefits future generations by preserving a unique ecosystem,” they said.

For the Flathead Land Trust, the completed project adds to its efforts to conserve the open space wildlife habitat around Polebridge.

“Sometimes, conserving a number of adjoining smaller parcels achieves the same conservation objective as conserving larger parcels of land,” said Ryan Hunter of the Flathead Land Trust.

“Having both the old Frederick property and the Coolidge property conserved in perpetuity creates a nice block of conserved land for the Polebridge area,” he said.

The Flathead Land Trust received generous grants from Vital Ground Foundation, a nonprofit land trust that conserves habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife in the northern Rocky Mountains, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to help pay for expenses associated with the project.

The Flathead Land Trust has 416 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.

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