By HEIDI DESCH
The Haskill Basin and Trumbull Creek conservation easement areas continue to be popular for recreation, and while user conflicts seem to be few, land managers continue to monitor activity on the properties.
On the Haskill Basin easement, which includes a section of the Whitefish Trail, there is an average of about 2,400 users per month during the summer who access the area through the Reservoir Trailhead and about 2,600 per month who pass through the Big Mountain Trailhead during the winter.
The Trumbull Creek property supports education programs, including the Flathead Family Forestry Expo and the Ravenwood Outdoor Learning Center. Last spring, 1,300 fifth-graders, along with 600 adults and families visited the Trumbull property during the expo.
Representatives from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. and the city of Whitefish met last week at Whitefish City Hall for a liaison team meeting for the annual review of both conservation easements,
One example of a concern relayed during the meeting was of mountain bikers or hikers wearing headphones and not being aware of approaching logging trucks in the dispersed recreation areas.
Paul McKenzie, lands and resource manager for F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co., noted that the easement areas and Stoltze’s property are working forests.
“There’s a need in general for public outreach to remind recrationalists to be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “Sometimes they’re so focused on recreation, but they need to be aware whether it’s of logging trucks or wildlife.”
Mayor John Muhlfeld said the city and Whitefish Legacy Partners are planning an outreach and education campaign around the issue.
“This is and will remain a working forest and people need to pay attention,” he said.
Muhlfeld spoke about the Whitefish Trail section that runs through Haskill beginning at the Reservoir Trailhead on city property near the city’s water treatment plant off Reservoir Road.
“We’re recognizing because of the narrow property we have at the Reservoir Road trailhead we are observing some user conflicts because it is steep with narrow switchbacks,” he said. “We have a managed trail component, but the public wanted to maintain the dispersed recreation and we continue to monitor that to make sure that the spirit of the easement is being followed.”
The Haskill Basin conservation easement protects about 3,000 acres of Stoltze land north of Whitefish. The Trumbull Creek easement is on about 7,000 acres to the north of Columbia Falls on the south face of the Whitefish Range.
Both easements prevent development of the land, while preserving recreation access and allowing Stoltze to continue to manage the forest.
McKenzie noted other issues regarding users in the easements areas.
He noted some spots where users have marked with paint or signs dispersed recreation trails, which is not allowed. Often this coming from private vacation rental homes advertising it as an amenity.
“We consider that a commercial use and Stoltze requires a permit for that,” he said. “They are advertising it that there is a trail that connects to the [established] trails. We would rather the owners direct renters to the public trailheads.”
He said most all-terrain vehicle users follow the rules knowing that Stoltze’s properties remains one of the few areas where such use is still allowed.
“There is a lot of ATV use during hunting season,” McKenzie said. “There was unauthorized vehicles behind gates — that has been an ongoing issue, but in general we haven’t seen a major increase.”
He noted that when Stoltze imposed fire restrictions on its properties this last summer, it had good compliance with those closures.
One issue, Stoltze did have to deal with was an abandoned motorhome on the Trumbull property.
“It’s a real problem,” McKenzie said. “It wasn’t registered and [Flathead County] will remove an car, but not a motorhome so we have to dispose of it. We posted a notice on it to give the owner the opportunity to remove it.”
Wildlife continues to pass through the forestlands in Haskill and Trumbull. Photos taken from game cameras show bears, a wolf, a lynx or bobcat and deer using the areas.
While hunting, a man in November was attached by a bear on Trumbull Canyon Road which is within the Trumbull easement. In an interview later, the man said he was almost certain it was a grizzly bear and that he didn’t blame the bear because he and his hunting partner surprised it while walking through thick brush.
McKenzie noted that FWP wardens did a good job of notifying Stoltze of the incident, and though the incident isn’t related to the conservation easement he did suggest more signs could help remind folks of bear activity.
“There is a lot of bears moving through that area,” he said.
In terms of land management, Stoltze completed work in both the Trumbull and Haskill areas. Brush removal and weed spraying along roads took place in both, along with some road work.
In Trumbull, Stoltze completed 150 acres of timber harvest this year including single-tree harvest, salvage and regeneration work. Tree planting was completed on about 100 acres.
It harvested 43 acres of timber including thinning and regeneration in Haskill, and also completed three bridge replacements.
Liaison team meetings are required annually by both easements and offer an opportunity to discuss any issues with respect to public use, land use, access issues, conditions, or other unanticipated problems related to the preserved lands.