Clouds cover the ground over the crown of the continent in Montana.
Crown of the Continent Clouds cover the ground over the crown of the continent in Montana. © Steven Gnam

Newsroom

TNC Protecting Nature and Public Access in Belmont Creek

Missoula, MT

Thanks in large part to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), hikers, hunters, bikers and everyone who enjoys outdoor recreation now have some 7,300 acres in the Blackfoot River Corridor permanently protected for their use.  On November 21, 2019, The Nature Conservancy sold the land to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, helping stitch together what had been a patchwork of interspersed public and private land.

The land had been traditionally open to the public, but as long as it remained in private hands, there was no guarantee that access would continue, or that development wouldn’t compromise the natural values of the area. By consolidating it with the adjacent BLM land, access for the public is secure. 

“We couldn’t have done this without LWCF,” says Chris Bryant, TNC’s Western Montana Forests Director. “We are encouraged that legislation to permanently fund LWCF is moving forward and hope that we will see a vote on the legislation by the full Senate as soon as possible.”

TNC and BLM have been working in partnership on both forest restoration and stream protection projects here ever since our purchase of the land from Plum Creek and that work will continue after this sale.

Local Community Support

Rancher and semi-retired logger, Denny Iverson of Potomac says the success of the deal hinges in large part on how the partners engaged the local community.

“This sale comes after a deliberate process to get community input, which secured the support of local folks. It means the area will remain intact while still serving as a working landscape.”

Recreational groups also feel their voice was heard.

“We’re always psyched when we see more land conserved and kept in public ownership,” says Ben Horan of MTB Missoula, a local biking group. “We’re excited about continuing to work with the BLM on this land.”

Amanda Tripp Johansson’s family has been hunting on this land for generations. 

“All of the meat that my family eats comes from this land, so it has become kind of sacred to us. There is nothing more valuable than having the security that my family will continue to have this land for more generations to come.”

Joe Ashor, “BLM is deeply grateful to TNC for conducting a rigorous and open public process…to determine who best to manage these lands. We greatly appreciate the overwhelming support we received on this acquisition from local landowners, sportsmen's groups as well as key partners…The BLM is looking forward to continuing TNC's work with the public to manage these lands for a wide variety of benefits and opportunities.”

In addition to the LWCF, TNC is extremely grateful for the generosity of a number of funders, including the Wyss Foundation, whose support enabled both the purchase and our on-the-ground work to improve the condition of the land.

BLM TNC Blackfoot River

The Checkered History

The land was part of a 117,000-acre purchased by TNC from Plum Creek Timber Company in 2014.  As was typical through Western Montana, much of this land had been part of a checkerboard pattern of public and private land that dates back to 1862. At that time, Congress gave the two main railway companies every other 1-mile section of land within a 10-40-mile corridor along their railroads. The remaining sections remained in the hands of the government. Eventually, most of the railroad land ended up under the ownership of a series of private timber companies. That checkerboard of intermingled public and private land made its management difficult and costly.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.