Montana Project Ranked Top Priority in Federal Budget

The protection of land and water in western Montana's Haskill basin is the nation's top-ranked working forest conservation project for the U.S. Forest Service, The Trust for Public Land announced today.

Last summer, The Trust for Public Land and F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co., Montana's oldest family-owned lumber company, announced a plan to conserve more than 3,000 acres of Stoltze-owned land. The property straddles the Haskill basin drainage and provides about 75% of Whitefish's drinking water supply. It will be permanently protected for water, wildlife and recreation, as well as continued sustainable forest management.

Deb Love, Northern Rockies Director of The Trust for Public Land, said, "We knew Haskill basin was one of the most important projects in the country and this budget proposal just confirms that. Not only will conservation of Haskill basin ensure continued timber jobs in the area, it protects outstanding wildlife habitat, a popular trail system, and most importantly, Whitefish's drinking water supply."

"More funding is needed to permanently protect this land," Love noted. "The Trust for Public Land will be working with the local community to raise additional money from private donors and various public funding sources to make possible the protection of this beloved resource."

The project was top-ranked by the Forest Service for its Forest Legacy Program, which makes grants to states to purchase permanent conservation easements and other property interests that protect forest land resources. The Forest Service would provide $7 million of the estimated $17 million total cost.

The Forest Service ranks the Stolze project as its highest priority for the program in Fiscal Year 2015, which begins next Oct. 1. President Obama sent the government-wide budget to Capitol Hill last week. It will now be considered by Congress.

The request was part of the broader budget for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal government's premier program for protecting land around the nation. Obama proposed to fully fund LWCF at $900 million.

F. H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company Vice President and General Manager Chuck Roady said, "We are very excited and appreciative of receiving the highest priority national ranking for the 2015 Forest Legacy Program. This #1 rank reflects the significance, importance, and broad recognition of the Haskill Basin project to the City of Whitefish municipal watershed, to the western Montana recreational community, and to the continuous commitment by Stoltze to sustainable forest management for this critical area."

"Making smart, responsible decisions about forest management and recreation will strengthen our economy and make sure our kids and grandkids can enjoy our treasured lands," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a senior member of the Appropriations subcommittee that will consider this part of the budget. "The Haskill basin initiative is critical not only for preserving 3,000 acres of Montana forest for recreation, but also for protecting Whitefish's water supply and making sure we can continue to sustainably manage our lands."

"This project is important to Stoltze Land and Lumber and surrounding communities to help sustain logging and recreational use of the Haskill Basin for generations to come," said U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont. "I was happy to lend my support for this project and am pleased that it continues to be recognized as a priority for northwestern Montana."

"Montanans deeply understand the unbreakable connection between land, water, resource-related employment, and life in our communities," said Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont. "I appreciate the willingness of Stoltze Lumber to conserve this special property and to maintain important jobs in the woods, and the Forest Service has appropriately recognized the unique significance of this property. I look forward to working with my colleagues to secure this critical conservation success."

Stoltze was founded in 1912, although its genesis was the State Lumber Co., which began in 1891.

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.