Gifts of Conservation
The Nature Conservancy ended 2012 with three superb additions to conservation in Montana -- a total of 23,641 acres within the lush Swan Valley, the sweeping Northern Prairie, and the sagebrush of Southwest Montana.
January 02, 2013
BITTER CREEK - CARROLL EASEMENT
Declining grassland birds, pronghorn, and swift fox are among the animals being protected by a new, 7,004 acre easement on the Carroll property on Montana’s Northern Prairie. The easement adjoins one of Montana’s largest proposed prairie wilderness areas. The Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area, just east of this property, has also been designated by the Bureau of Land Management as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Services provided partial funding for this purchase.
This easement ensures that intact habitat will remain for both pronghorn and Greater Sage-grouse, which depend on this land for their twice-yearly migrations. In the case of the Sage-grouse, this area is in the heart of a migratory path of the birds’ longest journey – more than 100 miles each way. The federal government determined that both Greater Sage-grouse and Sprague’s Pipit meet the criteria for being threatened species, but precluded that action until 2014. These Sage-grouse are also Canada’s last sustainable population, making their conservation of international concern. Other Species of Concern that find refuge here are the tiny swift fox and regal Ferruginous Hawk. Get more info and a map
BIG HOLE - STEEL CREEK RANCH
These 2,013 acres preserves a last, narrow pathway (less than one half mile wide!) for pronghorn migrating between the Pioneer Mountains to the east and the Big Hole valley bottom to the west. Recent subdivision and development had threatened to pinch off this essential seasonal migration route. The land encompass a mosaic of habitat that supports a stunning diversity of wildlife ranging from moose and wolves to Greater Sage-grouse and Arctic grayling.
In addition to its importance for maintaining a healthy native fishery, the willow habitats along Steel Creek support a wide range of amphibians, birds, insects, and mammals. Wildlife frequent the ranch including deer, elk, Bald Eagles, Ferruginous Hawks, Long-billed Curlew, Sandhill cranes, pygmy rabbits, and numerous species of ducks.
The Conservancy was pleased to work with Beartooth Capital on this easement, a private firm that deals in ranch properties in need of restoration and long-term conservation. Along with its partners at Montana’s department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, the firm is actively restoring the streamside and wetland habitat on the ranch. Get more detail and maps
SWAN RIVER STATE FOREST
The Swan River State Forest expanded by 14,624 acres with the Conservancy’s sale of the land to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The land is covered by a conservation easement, held by the state department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The easement will limit permanent development of the land while allowing it to remain a working forest.
The state forest sits in one of Montana’s most cherished places. The Swan River, fed by sparkling streams tumbling out of the rugged Mission and Swan Mountains, winds through a spectacular valley, lush with wetlands. It’s a place inhabited by animals all but vanished in most of the country: grizzly bears, Canada lynx, wolverine, and the enigmatic fisher. Loons, eagles, and a host of other birds and wildlife are sustained by the forests and waters of the Swan.
But the true conservation impact of this sale is far greater than the acreage within this transaction. That’s because this land includes more than 18, disconnected, mile-square sections of private land that were scattered like cards within the larger state forest. For more than a century, the land had been logged by a succession of owners until it was purchased by the Conservancy as part of our 310,586-acre Montana Legacy Project. One of the Conservancy’s main goals with this project was to re-connect fractured holdings such as this so that the large, wild lands needed by wildlife and cherished by so many Montanans can be made whole and resilient for many generations to come. Get more info and a map
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.