NW Montana lands the Big Easement 

The largest conservation easement ever in Montana, which will eventually set aside some 140,000 acres in the northwest part of the state, moved one step closer to completion this week. The cooperative project between Plum Creek Timber, The Trust for Public Land and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) will provide wildlife habitat, public access and, according to all three parties involved, a playground for sustainable forest management in the Thompson and Fisher River Valleys. The project brought with it a rare chorus of unanimous praise from Montana politicians.

“This is an exciting opportunity to take care of the land and the economy,” says Gov. Judy Martz. “This project is in the best interest of the fish and wildlife while assuring public access and timber-based jobs.” Senators Conrad Burns and Max Baucus also praised the effort. “I am happy to support this project because of its significant public support at the local level,” noted Burns. Baucus also chimed in: “I’m very pleased that important sections of the Thompson and Fisher River Valleys are close to receiving permanent protection and becoming part of Montana’s largest conservation easement.”

Why all the backslapping and hand-shaking? The kind agreement arrived at in this project, where cooperation between public, private and non-profit entities results in a little something for everyone on a lot of land, makes politicians look good. That said, the compromises wrought actually have little to do with their efforts in high public office.

Baucus feels so good about the deal that he even mentioned it in a hearing held by the Senate Finance Committee he chairs: “This week, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the importance of providing incentives to encourage land conservation, particularly incentives to encourage the greater use of conservation easements. As chairman of the committee, I want to encourage strong public and private partnerships like this one. It’s a win-win for all sides.”

Still, even the people who did the actual work on the project feel good about completing the second phase of the project. About 66,000 acres are now assured some modicum of protection, with 74,000 more to be included under the agreement by the end of 2002. The land purchased for the easement is valued at $12 million. Funds to buy the easement came from a combination of public and private sources.

“The Thompson-Fisher project is one of FWP’s Centennial projects, said Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Director Jeff Hagener, “ so it is our hope that the results of this work are long remembered as one of this generation’s conservation gifts to Montana’s future.”

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