FWP proposes 22,295-acre conservation easement

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A Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks proposal for a 22,295 acre conservation easement is on its way to being finalized.

Kris Tempel, a FWP organizer for the project, said the easement would limit future development on the land while allowing Stimson Lumber Company to continue their sustainable forest management. The easement would also protect wildlife values on the property.

“This is a really important project,” she said.

According to the project summary, part of the purpose of the easement is to “protect important wildlife habitat and key landscape connectivity” while providing public access and recreational activities. If implemented, the project would permanently secure free public access for hunting, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and other outdoor activities.

Tempel said the easement will be paid for, mainly, by the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program that will provide a $6 grant. The funding comes from excised taxes from offshore oil and gas.

If everything goes well with the public scoping and hearing process, FWP would be closing on the purchase by the end of the year, she said.

After the public comment period ends, the next step is for FWP to issue a decision notice. The decision notice will then go to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to decide whether or not to move forward.

With this easement, Stimson gets to continue their forestry operations. “They’re in it for the long haul,” she said.

Barry Dexter, director of resource operations for Stimson Lumber Company, said the company’s philosophy is to buy timberland and manage it for “the long-term.”

Stimson has been in existence since the 1850s and because Stimson is a family held company, they hold a long-term vision, he said.

“These particular lands are really kind of a crowned jewel,” he said. There are a lot of elements to the area that make these lands extremely special.

The conservation easement helps Stimson by lowering the base value of the land, he said. It is land which Stimson will be committed to managing for perpetuity.

The project area shares 133 miles of border with the Kootenai National Forest, according to the project summary. Completion of the project would also help to decrease the demand for services when wildfires happen — wildfires which are due to an increasing number of homes and developments in wildland-urban interface areas.

After public comments are reviewed, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks will make a recommendation to the FWP Fish and Wildlife Commission in August to or not to purchase the 22,295 acre conservation easement.

The public comment period for the project goes until Saturday, June 29, at 5 p.m. Comments can be sent to ktempel@mt.gov or the Kootenai Forestlands Conservation Project at Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks addressed to Kris Tempel, 490 N. Meridian Road, Kalispell, MT 59901.

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