TPL, Southern Pine Plantations, US Fish and Wildlife Service protect 38,052 acres of timberland in Montana; conservation easement provides public access to recreation lands, allows SPP to continue sustainable timber harvesting, protecting wildlife habitat

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KALISPELL, Montana , July 14, 2022 (press release) –

In Partnership with Southern Pine Plantations, Property Provides Significant Hunting and Public Recreational Access While Ensuring Sustainable Timber Harvesting

Trust for Public Land (TPL), in partnership with Southern Pine Plantations (SPP), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), today  announced the permanent protection of 38,052 acres of timberland in Flathead and Lincoln Counties, within the Lost Trail Conservation Area. The conservation easement provides permanent public access to exceptional recreation lands, while allowing SPP to continue sustainable timber harvesting, and protecting incomparable wildlife habitat.

“We at Trust for Public Land want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the partners who have made this conservation success a reality,” said TPL Northern Rockies Director Dick Dolan. “This project wouldn’t have been possible if not for the vision and follow through of Southern Pine Plantations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their commitment to protecting the landscapes and heritage of which make Montana so special is commendable and should be applauded.”

“For decades Montanans' access to some of our most treasured land has been guaranteed through little more than a handshake and gentlemanly agreements. But at a time when Montana is seeing break-neck growth, TPL and our partners are doing everything we can - to keep Montana, Montana – and protect access to our favorite hunting spots, hiking trails, or secret fishing holes,” said Lucas Cain, Northern Rockies Project Manager with Trust for Public Land. “This project represents all the best aspects of conservation in Montana: sustainable timber management, protection of wildlife, and preserving access to these lands into the future.

This project represents the first conservation success within the recently approved Lost Trail Conservation Area (March 2021). The Lost Trail Conservation Area designation provides the opportunity to continue working with private landowners and conservation partners to protect up to 100,000 acres through the use of conservation easements.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is excited to add a new unit to the refuge system. This project embodies the “working with others” component of our mission and represents a win for the local communities that rely on the timber industry, public land users, and conservation,” said Ben Gilles, Western Montana Refuge Complex Project Lead for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Lost Trail project’s significance to wildlife habitat protection cannot be overstated. The newly protected 38,000-acres of property lies immediately north of the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, providing an exceptional ecological buffer, and offering some of the best and most popular elk hunting in northwest Montana. The property is also critical habitat for grizzly bears and Canada lynx, providing secured connectivity between the Northern Continental Divide and Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystems. The Lost Trail project is not only vital wildlife habitat, but a central puzzle piece of private land in the midst of an elaborate and historical network of public-private landscape conservation occurring in northwest Montana. 

This first new unit of the conservation area, along with future successes, complements and builds upon over 350,000 acres of conserved land that has been completed in the area over the last 20 years. Today’s project will ultimately help in stitching together projects such as the nearby 142,200-acre Thompson-Fisher Conservation Easement, the adjacent 7,956-acre Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, and the recently completed 27,289-acre Kootenai Forestlands Phase II Conservation Easement, and the future 115,000-acre Montana Great Outdoors Project currently being facilitated by Trust for Public Land. Over 20 years, TPL has preserved over 600,000 acres in Montana leaving a legacy of public access for future generations, and now with the ambitious goal to conserve an additional 200,000 acres over the next three years.

FWS will hold the conservation easement on this property and SPP will remain the landowner. The Trust for Public Land negotiated and managed the establishment of the conservation easement. Funding for the conservation easement was made possible through the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently funded the critically important Land and Water Conservation Fund. This project would not have been possible without the generous partnership and conservation mindset of SPP.
 
"SPP Montana fully understands the compelling need to preserve both a viable timber industry and recreational access for the people of Montana. Partnering with TPL and USFWS, we have preserved this property as forever wild and forever accessible,” said Benjy Griffith, President of SPP Montana.

“Montana’s public lands are the cornerstone of our booming outdoor economy and are foundational to our state’s heritage,” said Senator Jon Tester. “Responsible management starts with a balanced approach, and by fully funding the Land Water Conservation Fund through my Great American Outdoors Act, we made sure that places like the Lost Trail Conservation Area will create good paying jobs and ensure that folks in the Treasure State can enjoy access to their public lands for generations to come. It’s great to see folks coming together to set a high standard for management of Montana’s public lands.”

“The Lost Trail Project will help expand access to Montana’s public lands, strengthen Montana’s legacy of wildlife conservation all while continuing to support working timberland in northwest Montana. Glad to see Phase One of the project moving forward which would not have been possible without passage of my Great American Outdoors Act,” said Senator Steve Daines.

 “I am so grateful to all of the folks who stepped up and made the Lost Trail Conservation Area happen. This is a win/win for sportsmen, recreationists, the lumber industry, and the citizens of Flathead County for decades to come,” added Flathead County Commissioner Randy Brodehl. 

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About Trust for Public Land
Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.   

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