Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and Five Valleys Land Trust (FVLT) have partnered to acquire 640 acres northwest of Seeley Lake from Plum Creek Timberlands, L.P. The purchase of these lands consolidates public ownership in a key area for fish and wildlife conservation.
The property includes a vulnerable 1.3-mile reach of Deer Creek, an important spawning stream for native bull trout and cutthroat trout and a direct cold-water tributary to Seeley Lake, the community’s municipal water source.
According to FWP fisheries biologist, Ladd Knotek, this purchase solidifies public ownership of the Deer Creek main stem and helps to set the stage for future restoration work.
“Nearly the entire Deer Creek watershed is now in public ownership, which will facilitate a lot of restoration work and should really improve native trout habitat over the next 10 years,” Knotek says.
The Deer Cr. parcel will be permanently incorporated into FWP’s adjacent Marshall Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), purchased in 2011. Conserving this property was an extremely high priority because it contains some of the most productive, previously unprotected, Canada lynx habitat in the western U.S., as well as valuable cover for grizzly bears moving across the Clearwater Valley.
“Recent research data proved what locals have known for years—Deer Cr. is heavily used by bears, lynx, moose, elk and dozens of other species as primary habitat and as a forested corridor connecting the Mission Mountains and Clearwater River Valley,” FWP wildlife biologist, Jay Kolbe says.
As part of the Marshall Creek WMA, the property will be managed for wildlife habitat and public recreational use, including hunting, hiking, and bird watching. Acquisition of the property also protects an important segment of the popular Westside Snowmobile Trail System.
Feedback from local residents received by FWP during a 30-day public comment period was overwhelmingly positive.
“These lands provide clean drinking water, places for people to enjoy the outdoors, and unrivaled wildlife habitat,” said Five Valleys Land Trust Project Manager Lewis Kogan. “Protecting these lands is a great outcome for the Seeley Lake community.”
With much of Plum Creek’s property for sale in the Seeley Lake area, FWP biologists were concerned a critical conservation opportunity could be lost. FWP partnered with Five Valleys Land Trust to secure funding necessary to acquire the property, and an incredible collaboration of agencies and organizations responded to help complete the project. Funding for the acquisition came from FWP, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Five Valleys Land Trust, the Missoula County Open Space Bond Program, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Vital Ground Foundation, and the W. H. Donner Foundation.
“This is a great example of the good work that can be done with strong public-private partnerships. Five Valleys is thrilled that we were able to pull it off and protect such a special place,” said Kogan.