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Conservation partnership adds 6,300 acres to Stillwater State Forest

Whitefish, MT —The Trust for Public Land, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation last week completed the final phase of the Whitefish Lake Watershed Project.

Years in the making, this collaborative conservation effort expands Stillwater State Forest north of Whitefish by 6,380 acres and protects important fish and wildlife habitat, public access and recreational opportunities while also promoting sustainable forest management.

The completion of the final phase is possible in large part to a $4 million grant from the USDA Forest Service, Forest Legacy Program and a $2 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund program. Both programs are derived from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses a small fraction of revenues generated from offshore oil and gas royalty payments to protect and enhance outdoor recreation and natural resources. LWCF is not funded by general taxpayer dollars.

“This project represents why LWCF is so vital,” said Kristin Kovalik, senior project manager with The Trust for Public Land. “Thanks to the Forest Legacy Program and Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund program, we were able to protect important habitat and provide public access to land that makes Montana such a special place.”

This final phase completes the conservation of 13,398 total acres of privately owned timber land that will be added to the Stillwater State Forest as public land and sustainably managed by Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. This block of land has been a gap in the state forest since being sold by the State of Montana in the early 20th century. This forestland has long been viewed as a priority for public land conservation by reconnecting the original ownership of the land.

Montana’s Congressional delegation strongly supported the project.

“The Stillwater Forest Legacy Project is the kind of collaborative action that strengthens our public lands and boosts out growing outdoor economy,” Senator Jon Tester said.  “This good news further underscores the urgent need to permanently authorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund so Montanans can continue to build on our outdoor way of life and preserve it for future generations.”

“After years of work, this great project that expands public access, recreation and conservation of our public lands will now be completed,” Senator Steve Daines said. “This project is just one more example of the importance of LWCF to Montana. I will continue to fight for permanent reauthorization and full funding of this important program.” 

“Nearing completion, this project promises to increase public access to our public lands and is another example of what LWCF can do. LWCF is important to Montanans, and I’ll continue working to make sure it’s permanently reauthorized,” said Congressman Greg Gianforte.

FWP will hold the conservation easement on 3,200 acres, which adjoins the 7,018-acre easement purchased earlier this year. This easement was also completed thanks to grants from the Forest Legacy Program and Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. The easements ensure sustainable forest management, public access and public recreation opportunities while removing development rights.

 “This is a historic moment for DNRC,” said DNRC Director John Tubbs. “The acquisition of these lands brings them back into state Trust Land ownership. I want to thank all involved, including the team at DNRC that spent innumerable hours working through the purchase and closing and the teams at DFWP, TPL and all of our partners.  I also want to thank Weyerhaeuser Corporation for their willingness to work with all of us to form a conservation legacy for Montana in the Stillwater State Forest.”

In one of the fastest growing regions in the Northern Rockies, this conservation project protects local forestry jobs, clean water, public access for outdoor recreation and important habitat for fish and wildlife, including grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and westslope cutthroat trout.

“This property includes an incredibly diverse mix of forest, meadow, wetland and streams that are crucial for iconic species like grizzly bears and popular game species like white-tailed deer,” said Alan Wood, Science Program Supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. “We appreciate Weyerhaeuser’s history of stewardship on this property and their patience while all the partners worked to make this project happen.”

As part of the collaborative conservation project, the Bonneville Power Administration Fisheries Mitigation Program paid $10.68 million to conserve 3,180 acres of the 13,398 acres joining the Stillwater State Forest. A conservation easement will be held by the United States and the land was donated to DNRC. Acquisition of this land will also allow for sustainable timber management while protecting important bull trout habitat within Swift Creek, an important water source for the community of Whitefish. The Montana Land Board approved the donation in late September.