FWP seeks comments on easement

by STAFF REPORT
Staff Report | October 14, 2020 12:10 AM

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public input on a proposal to purchase a conservation easement to protect approximately 7,256 acres of timberland and wildlife habitat in near Marion.

Earlier this spring, FWP released a 30-day scoping notice to solicit public input on the proposed project and requested the public’s help identifying any issues, concerns, or other information that FWP should consider when evaluating the opportunity to conserve this property.

FWP received 40 comments through the public scoping process, which are summarized in the current environmental assessment that is out for a new round of public comment.

The property is part of approximately 630,000 acres purchased by Southern Pine Plantations Montana, LLC from Weyerhaeuser in December 2019.

This proposed conservation project is a collaborative effort involving SPP, The Trust for Public Land and FWP. The proposed conservation easement, to be held by FWP, would allow SPP to retain ownership of these timberlands, preclude development, protect important wildlife habitat and key landscape connectivity, and provide permanent public access and associated recreational opportunities.

The proposed project would protect habitat for two large elk herds. The project area includes the north slope of Dredger Ridge, a favorite walk-in elk hunting area that currently provides over 400 days of public hunting access. to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

The proposed easement would be funded using grant monies from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, FWP’s Habitat Montana program, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The land shares nearly seven miles of border with the 7,876-acre U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge and 4,093 acres of Wetland Reserve Program easements held by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

FWP’s proposed conservation easement is within the newly proposed USFWS Lost Trail Conservation Area. The proposed conservation area would authorize the USFWS to acquire up to 100,000 acres of conservation easements from willing sellers within the designated boundary. Just like the FWP easement, the USFWS easements would ensure permanent public access in one of the best elk hunting areas in the region and allow the property to be sustainably managed for timber production while preserving important wildlife habitat and migration corridors.

The USFWS released a draft environmental assessment for their proposal and it is open to public comment through Oct. 16. FWP is seeking public input for its separate conservation easement through Nov. 8. A virtual public hearing will be held Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

The online meeting will include a presentation and opportunity for questions and public input. The meeting will be livestreamed on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov/ regions/r1 and the FWP YouTube channel.

Instructions for participating in the virtual meeting will be posted online beforehand.

Comments on the FWP easement proposal can be sent to: Lost Trail Conservation Easement, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Attn: Kris Tempel, 490 N. Meridian Rd, Kalispell, MT 59901. Or email ktempel@mt.gov. Or call (406) 249-7481.

Copies of this EA will be available for public review at FWP Region One Headquarters in Kalispell and are available on the FWP website at https://fwp.mt.gov/