$4M Grant Will Help Protect 140,000 Acres (MT)

HELENA, MONTANA, 9/16/02 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nonprofit land conservation organization, said a $4.2 million grant announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will help toward creating the largest conservation easement in Montana.

The money will go toward purchase of a conservation easement in the Thompson and Fisher River Valleys in northwestern Montana, where TPL is working with the Plum Creek Timber Co. and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to place more than 140,000 acres of land under easement, which will protect the land from being converted to non-forest uses.

The grant was awarded by the FWS through the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition grant program, authorized under Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This program provides federal funds to protect the habitat of endangered and threatened species. In the Thompson-Fisher grant, the funds will be used to protect habitat of the bull trout, which is listed as threatened under the ESA. The funding will acquire easements on over 23,000 acres of bull trout habitat, primarily in the Thompson River Valley. This compliments the funds already invested from the Forest Legacy Program, FWP wildlife mitigation funds, and private contributions from Plum Creek and Avista.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said, “It pleases me to see our vast areas of natural beauty in Montana protected, an effort I am constantly working towards. This grant will allow some of our most important land to be permanently preserved, allowing Montanans to enjoy it and participate in the great recreational activities that are available there.”

“We are very pleased to hear that the next phase of the conservation easement on the Thompson-Fisher project is coming to fruition, said Dan Vincent, Regional Supervisor for the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. FWP continues to receive very strong support for this project from the public, especially in the hunting and angling communities. Hunting, fishing, camping, and outdoor recreation are extremely important to the people of Northwestern Montana, and we are grateful to all the parties for their involvement in this very important project.”

FWP State Director Jeff Hagener also expressed pleasure in this funding award; commenting on the magnitude of the scope and effort, he stated, “This is a tremendous conservation achievement for the sports men and women of Montana. The multi-partner participation is a rewarding and essential element in the success of this effort.”

“Plum Creek is pleased that the funding for this phase of the Thompson-Fisher conservation easement has been announced,” said Tom Ray, Plum Creek’s Northwest regional general manager. “The real beneficiaries of this program are the citizens of Montana who can enjoy the recreational traits of this great area while economic activity continues. This project fits well within the objectives of our native fish Habitat Conservation Plan which covers 1.6 million acres in Montana, Idaho and Washington.”

David Genter, director of the Northern Rockies office of the Trust for Public Land, noted, “This is tremendous news. The Thompson-Fisher River project was up against some stiff national competition for these funds. The project’s compelling conservation values, public interest and broad support made a big difference. This funding brings us another step closer to completing a true conservation milestone. We look forward to continue working with the state, Plum Creek, the Montana delegation, the Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners in completing this visionary project over the coming months.”

The Trust for Public Land, established in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law, to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. In Montana, TPL has offices in Helena and Bozeman and TPL Montana projects include protection of Lindbergh Lake, grizzly bear and bull trout habitat in the Swan Valley, the historic Garnet ghost town, waterfowl habitat at the Blasdel National Wildlife Refuge, and lands in the Gallatin National Forest northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Across the nation, TPL has helped protect more than 1.4 million acres.