"On the MLP lands, we have removed 60 problematic culverts and almost 100 miles of road, as well as hundreds of illegal motorized-vehicle routes.”
- Steve Kloetzel, Western Montana Land Steward at The Nature Conservancy
One year ago, The Nature Conservancy closed on the Great Western Checkerboard, a $134 million deal that protects 165,073 acres of former industrial timber lands across the northwest. More than 70% of these forested lands are in Montana and are managed as the Clearwater-Blackfoot Project. Our goal, as we move forward over the next decade, is to actively engage with local partners and surrounding communities to identify the best possible permanent outcomes for these lands. Success will be achieved in long-term protection, as well as leaving the land in better condition than we found it.
In collaboration with critical partners such as the Blackfoot Challenge; Five Valleys Land Trust; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; and Montana Trout Unlimited — the Conservancy has spent the last year working to literally change the maps of western Montana and produce cleaner waters, healthier habitat and a brighter future for plants, animals and people.
Here, Steven Kloetzel, the Conservancy’s Western Montana Land Steward, highlights many of the year’s successes and explains the restoration goals that lie ahead.
In just twelve short months, the Conservancy and its partners have conducted 1,264 miles of road surveys, inventoried 460 stream crossings, and mapped power lines, fences and illegal motorized vehicle routes. This critical work will enable the Conservancy to proceed with removing or repairing problematic stream crossings, removing unnecessary roads to enhance fisheries, improve water quality and lower long-term management costs.
Additionally, we have been actively targeting weed treatments of “new invader” noxious weeds, such as yellow and orange hawkweed, Dalmatian and yellow toadflax and Hairy cat’s ear. These aggressive weeds threaten to replace native plant communities. Additionally, we treated weeds on 20 miles of open road that are heavily used by local recreationists.
The Conservancy also has been tuning up the landscape by repairing high-priority bridges and culverts, securing gates and barricades from illegal motorized use, and restoring trails damaged by careless recreational use.
Culvert repairs and road maintenance, in particular, are given the highest priority. Out of 460 stream crossings mapped, crews identified up to 50 crossings with more than 50 percent blockage, some of these impeding fish passage and all of them increasing the risk of road washouts.
“I’m excited to report that, on TNC’s Montana Legacy Project lands, we are only three ‘hot spots’ away from completion ,” says Kloetzel. “On the MLP lands, we have removed 60 problematic culverts and almost 100 miles of road, as well as hundreds of illegal motorized-vehicle routes.” Those are all big wins for the people and wildlife that rely on this landscape. We plan similar landscape-level conservation work on the CBP lands.
Looking Ahead to 2016
As we enter the new year, the Conservancy anticipates gaining even more momentum. In addition to ongoing projects, we will begin to shift our attention to biological inventories to assess the health of the forest and its inhabitants, such as monitoring forest carnivores (including lynx, wolverine and fisher), as well as continuing with restoration activities on roads, stream crossings, historic disturbances, and weeds.
By focusing our stewardship efforts on forest inventories and monitoring carnivores such as lynx, wolverine, and fisher, we can develop an effective long-term management plan that accounts for both nature and recreation.