What is the Montana Legacy Project?
This project conserves more than 310,000 acres of important forestland most recently owned by Plum Creek Timber Company in northwestern Montana. The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land reached an agreement to purchase the land from Plum Creek and the Conservancy will own and manage the land until it can be conveyed to a combination of public and private conservation owners. The goals of this project are to:
- Preserve vital wildlife habitat and water resources
- Maintain the production and restoration opportunities that sustain both the land and local communities
- Conserve traditional access for a broad variety of outdoor recreation
What are the specifics of the agreement?
The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land are buying the land in three phases for a combined total price of about $490 million. The first phase was purchased in December 2008, the second in February 2009 and the third was completed December 2010.
Lands included in this purchase are within the Swan Valley, the upper Clearwater Valley near Seeley Lake, the Lolo Creek watershed, the Mill Creek area near Missoula, Fish Creek, Petty Creek, Schwartz Creek, and in the Garnet Mountains between Potomac and Interstate 90.
Why this land?
The Montana Legacy Project includes some of the best water, wildlife and working forests in Montana. It’s a core section of of what is known as the Crown of the Continent, one of the largest, most intact ecosystems remaining in the continental United States.
The land provides habitat, and key links to habitat in other regions, for several threatened and endangered species including grizzly bears, lynx, and bull trout. A lot of the land, particularly the low elevation portions, is critical for big game species; but it is also under strong pressure for development. Fragmentation of this habitat by development limits wildlife access to vital food sources and the animals' ability of to move between essential core and seasonal habitat. That would imperil their long term health and resiliency.
People in local communities have been saying for years this was land they wanted to move into public ownership. That process began long before negotiations with Plum Creek. Generations of people have worked and played in these forests -- hiking, hunting, camping and fishing The loss of this land to development would be a severe blow to those cherished and traditional uses.
Why buy it now?
The wood products industry is in a time of great transition and timber companies are putting millions of acres of private forest on the market, including more than a million acres in Montana. Given the high demand for much of this land for subdivision and vacation home development, this project ensures that vital habitat and links between crucial wildlife range won't be irrevocably lost. The Conservancy realized that this was the last opportunity to conserve this land at a scale that would ensure its quality and biological viability.
How is the purchase being funded?
The purchase is being financed by a broad mix of public and private sources.
On the federal level, $250 million has been made available under the Qualified Forest Conservation Bonds – a new public financing mechanism created under the leadership of Montana Senator Max Baucus. This funding vehicle addresses the rapid transition taking place in the timber industry from timber harvesting to real estate development. This legislation enables states or non-profits to purchase important forest lands either through the issuance of tax credit bonds or through direct federal grants. As the first pilot project for this new program, the Montana Legacy Project applied for and received $250 million in federal funding to help acquire approximately 112,000 acres that has been transferred to U.S. Forest Service ownership.
The State of Montana is also purchasing portions of this land. The 2009 legislature approved bonding authority for the acquisition by the state Dept. of Natural Resources & Conservation of approximately 32,000 acres surrounding the Potomac Valley. The Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks purchased about 42,000 acres in the Fish Creek drainage and 24,000 acres in the upper Clearwater drainage to create two new Wildlife Management Area. We continue to work with the state and other public agencies on the transfer of land that fits their goals and priorities.
Private conservation buyers may also purchase land that isn’t conveyed to public ownership.
We continue our efforts to raise funds from public sources as well as private investments and philanthropic donations from people that recognize the importance of this magnificent place.