Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is working to complete the purchase of a conservation easement on important timberland and wildlife habitat in northwest Montana. The agency is attempting to purchase a 32,981-acre conservation easement on property owned by Green Diamond Resources Company, a lumber producer. 

The proposed easement purchase is step one of a project known as the Montana Great Outdoors Conservation Easement, which would conserve a total of 85,792 acres of land spanning Lincoln, Flathead, and Sanders counties. The conservation easements would still allow Green Diamond to sustainably harvest timber on its properties while forbidding any other development in perpetuity. Officials say it’s a win for wildlife in the Treasure State. 

“This project would conserve wildlife winter range and a movement corridor for elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and moose,” explains the FWP in a statement provided to Field & Stream. “It would provide critical habitat for grizzly bear and Canada lynx, federally threatened species found on the property, and protect streams for the westslope cutthroat trout and Columbia River redband trout, both Montana Species of Concern.”

According to the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit advocating for the purchase of the conservation easements, the proposed property includes a route to some of the most popular elk hunting ground in the northwest. The private property has historically been open to hunters and anglers under Montana’s Block Management Program, as well as other voluntary open land practices. The conservation easements would make sure it stays this way. 

Funding for the proposed easement would be provided by the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, the Habitat Montana program, and Trust for Public Land, as well as an in-kind contribution in the form of donated land by Green Diamond. According to the draft environmental assessment, the total value of the proposed easement is $39,507,442. 

The project would build on similar conservation easements in the area, including the 142,000-acre Thompson-Fisher Conservation Easement and the 100,000-acre USFWS Lost Trail Conservation Area. Trust for Public Land’s Northern Rockies Director Dick Dolan says the Montana Great Outdoors Conservation Easement is especially important given recent developments in Montana. 

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“For decades Montanans’ access to some of our most treasured land has been guaranteed through little more than a handshake and neighborly agreements. But at a time when Montana is seeing break-neck growth, TPL is doing everything we can to protect access to our favorite hunting spots, hiking trails, or secret fishing holes,” he says. “The opportunity to protect the Montana Great Outdoors property completes the connectivity of previous conservation efforts and would ensure permanent public access to a highly used recreational corridor. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

FWP is currently accepting public comments on the proposal. The public comment opportunity will close on May 15.