1,700 Acres of Swan River Valley Protected (MT)

MISSOULA, Montana, 5/20/03 – Wildlife-rich and scenic portions of the Swan Valley in northwestern Montana will be forever protected as part of a three-way agreement announced today between Plum Creek Timber Company, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), and the Flathead National Forest.

As a result of the agreement, almost 1,700 acres along Van Lake and portions of the Swan River have been transferred into public ownership as part of the Flathead National Forest. Residents of the Swan Valley, TPL and Plum Creek have worked with local officials and Montana’s Senators over the past four years to secure the necessary funds to add these important lands to the Flathead NF.

This purchase consolidates public ownership and access on Van Lake, a popular recreation site, and portions of the Swan River. It further enhances hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities, and provides important wildlife habitat links to the adjoining Bob Marshall and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas.

Funding for this transfer comes from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money to protect critical open space throughout the nation and was secured thanks to the leadership of Senator Conrad Burns, the Chairman of the Senate’s Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, and Senator Max Baucus.

“The Swan Valley conservation efforts will provide tremendous public benefits for generations to come,” said Senator Conrad Burns, R-Montana. “There is strong community and business support for this project and I will continue to work on securing funds for the Swan Valley program. Not only have we conserved a valuable piece of Montana, but we did it in support of the local economy.”

“The Swan Valley and surrounding lands are a national treasure and Montana’s Senators are to be commended for making this acquisition possible,” says David Genter, TPL’s director for the Northern Rockies. “In the end, it was the tremendous community support, and special efforts by Sen. Burns, that made this acquisition possible.”

“Local folks worked hard to get the job done and protect this special place. Kudos to Plum Creek Timber Company and the Trust for Public Land.” said Missoula County Commissioner Barbara Evans. “I strongly support this effort to protect habitat and resolve conflicts with fish and wildlife.”

“This collaborative project between Plum Creek, Trust for Public Land, the local community and the Forest Service offers a rare opportunity to enhance public recreation and secure critical habitat for some of Montana’s priority fish and wildlife”, added Kathy McAllister, Deputy Regional Forester for the Northern Region. “With the potential for significant conflicts over endangered species, public access and forest management in a checkered ownership, the Swan Valley is a high priority management area for the Forest Service.”

“We are pleased to see these important lands go into conservation status”, said Tom Ray, General Manager for Plum Creek’s Northwest Region. “This is an important part of our commitment to a balanced program of timberlands, conservation and real estate sales. Since 1996, Plum Creek has sold or exchanged more than 24,000 acres of land from its holdings for conservation purposes. We appreciate the determined efforts of the community and congressional delegation to make this acquisition possible”.

Located 80 miles northeast of Missoula in the upper Swan Valley, these lands are extremely rich with wildlife, including mountain lion, bear, goshawk, pine marten, owl, elk, moose, deer, lynx and wolverine. The region also has one of the strongest bull trout populations in Montana and provides most of the known populations of water howellia, a rare aquatic plant. Both species are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, the land is important habitat for the threatened grizzly bear. This consolidation of land in public ownership enhances its use as a corridor for grizzlies to travel between the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountain Wilderness Areas. In turn, that capability fits into the 1995 Swan Valley Grizzly Bear Conservation Agreement, signed by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Plum Creek, the Flathead National Forest and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“What happens with these high-use public areas affects the entire Swan Valley community,” says Anne Dahl of the Swan Ecosystem Center. “If the valley is going to remain rural and retain the values that make it special, it’s essential we put some of these lands into public ownership.”

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization, uses real estate expertise and a cooperative approach in partnership with landowners, community groups and public agencies to acquire land for public use. Since 1972, TPL has protected over 1.5 million acres nationwide with a value of more than $1.6 billion. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations and corporations. Projects in Montana include protection of Garnet Ghost Town, waterfowl habitat at the Blasdel National Wildlife Refuge, Mount Sentinel, the Thompson and Fisher River Valleys, and the Taylor Fork and other Gallatin National Forest lands north of Yellowstone National Park. The Trust for Public Land has offices in Helena and Bozeman.