Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) recently purchased conservation easements across 10,760 acres of private lands in Powell County, north of Drummond, according to FWP and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
The easements, funded through a grant from the US Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, conserve important fish and wildlife habitat by maintaining traditional land uses, including livestock production and timber management, and protect against subdivision and other impacts to habitat values. Fall public hunting access is guaranteed on all of the easement properties.
The State Board of Land Commissioners unanimously approved the FWP proposal for the Murray Douglas, Murray Creek and Douglas Creek easements, and the transactions involving three landowners closed on May 25.
The properties will continue to be owned and managed by the landowners (the Blackfoot River Ranch, the Manley Ranch and TNC). The conservation easements support working ranches, working forests and continued private ownership, said Chris Bryant, Western Montana Land Protection Specialist for TNC, in Missoula.
“Conservation easements are a tool to help ranching families stay on the land and pass their way of life on to their children,” Bryant explained. “TNC is extremely pleased to have played a role with our good partners in making this opportunity available to these ranches.”
The landowners donated more than 30 percent of the appraised easement value and were compensated for the remainder with a grant to FWP from the US Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program. The Forest Legacy Program supports state efforts to protect forest lands from development so that they will continue to supply timber, provide wildlife habitat, and offer soil and watershed protection and recreation opportunities.
“Montana has been a major beneficiary of Forest Legacy dollars in the past, with the purchase of more than 10,000 acres of the Marshall Block near Seeley Lake and a nearly 28,000-acre Kootenai Valleys Conservation Easement on land owned by the Stimson Lumber Company near Troy,” said Ken McDonald, Chief of FWP’s Wildlife Division.
FWP administers the Forest Legacy Program in Montana, in close cooperation with Montana’s Forest Stewardship Committee, which includes representation from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and private forest managers.
Jay Coughlin, part owner of the Blackfoot River Ranch, said that easements are a good deal for everyone. “The mountain acres we acquired are important pasture for our cattle, and the conservation easement terms ensure that the way we operate today as good stewards of the land will continue into the future and protect public hunting opportunity on thousands of acres of private land.”
The easements also represent one of the final phases of an 10-year, 89,000-acre conservation initiative, led by the Blackfoot Challenge and TNC, through which former Plum Creek lands were converted to a mix of private and public land managed for conservation values and access.
“These conservation easements are a win-win for ranchers who own critical wildlife habitat, and for the public that values wildlife and access to it,” said Jay Kolbe, FWP Blackfoot-area Wildlife Biologist. “We can’t thank the landowners enough for their commitment to the land, and for their generosity and cooperation in making these projects happen. This is something that the Blackfoot Challenge and all of us have been working on for a long time, and finally the time was right.”