Plum Creek changes stance

Back in May, as the Missoula Board of County Commissioners' deliberations over the Seeley Lake Regional Plan neared an end, Plum Creek Timber Co. made its objections clear. Specifically, Kathleen Sims, the company's senior director of real estate law, condemned the commissioners for using wildlife as justification for "potentially designating Plum Creek property as open space."

But now, a week after the commissioners finally approved the years-in-the-making and wildlife-friendly growth policy, Sims says Plum Creek is content with the commissioners' decision to ignore the company's requests for higher building densities on its timberlands.

What changed?

"What happened is the agencies [the U.S. Forest Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks] sat down and told us, 'Look, these are the areas that are important for, for instance, wildlife migration corridors. Or this is important lynx habitat. Or this is this elk wintering range,'" says Sims. "And based upon that detailed information, our science team went back and revised the proposal."

Sims now calls the Seeley Lake Regional Plan "respectful of resources and private property rights."

Plum Creek, owner of about 52 percent of the private land in the 235,535-acre planning region, didn't come away empty-handed, of course. Its negotiations over the summer with an interagency group that included USFS and FWP yielded higher building densities around Placid Lake. Some parcels initially allowing densities of one house per 40 acres were lowered to one house per 10 or 20 acres.

"It was very clear to all parties in the [interagency group] that everyone made some compromises, including Plum Creek," says Pat O'Herren, director of Missoula County Rural Initiatives. "So they truly did get their density reduced in some areas. In other areas where it wasn't as critical it was like, 'Yeah, fine, that's okay.'"

O'Herren stresses that the Seeley Lake Regional Plan is not a regulatory document, but sets the limits for future zoning.

Plum Creek's future goals for the area remain unknown. Sims insists the company has "no immediate plans to develop anything." And she says she's unaware of any intentions to sell off valuable Placid Lake parcels.

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