Over 5,000 Acres Protected in Bitterroot Ntl. Forest (MT)

Hamilton, MT, 2/11/05 – Another step is completed in the continuing effort to secure conservation of lands in the southern Bitterroot Valley. Last week the Bitterroot National Forest acquired nine parcels totaling 5,760 acres known as the Rye Creek lands, located east of Darby. The Trust for Public Land acquired these lands last year as part of a negotiated settlement with previous landowners. The conveyance to the Forest Service concludes another successful measure to bring conservation protection to these important resource lands on the west slope of the Sapphire Range.

The lands are located in a checkerboard ownership pattern of private and public land, covering a large part of Rye Creek and the upper portions of Sleeping Child and Little Sleeping Child creeks. The potential for residential development of these lands was significant and would have exacerbated management conflicts and access to public lands. Local recreationists and community leaders have long tried to secure these private inholdings, to incorporate into the Bitterroot National Forest. This acquisition will block up public ownership and provide opportunities for ecosystem restoration and management.

The lands have significant wildlife and fisheries values as well as a long tradition of public access to the adjacent national forest lands. Not surprisingly, they have been of interest to the local community, conservationists, and Ravalli County officials who viewed development of these lands as harmful to wildlife and taxing to public services, already stretched by wide ranging residential developments. Portions of the property are located within a critical elk migration corridor and provide important elk and deer winter range at lower elevations.

“The Rye Creek acquisition is the culmination of years of effort by many individuals and organizations. It shows what we can do when we work together for a common goal,” stated Dave Bull, Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor.

Funding for this acquisition came through the Land and Water Conservation Fund program, which provides funding for protection of lands with important public resources such as recreation, habitat, and watershed values. The Congressional appropriation originated in 1999 and was maintained through the efforts of the Montana Congressional delegation, and particularly Senator Conrad Burns, who oversees the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

“This is a great conservation victory that protects a beautiful landscape,” said Roger Hoesterey, TPL vice president and northwest regional director. “Future generations will be thankful for the foresight and efforts of local citizens and political leaders to protect these lands.”

The acquisition has long held broad support among the community, including the Ravalli County Commissioners, Grassroots for Multiple Use, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Bitterroot, Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the League of Women Voters. All have expressed great concern about elimination of public access, the threats of inappropriate housing development, and loss of wildlife and fisheries habitat.

“We are pleased to see these lands finally protected. It has been a long journey, but this project has maintained the support of a diverse group of people because of its multiple and mutual benefits,” said Doris Milner of the League of Women Voters.

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 lands for public use. Since 1972, TPL has protected over 1.9 million acres. Projects in Montana include protection of Lindbergh Lake, Garnet Ghost Town, Thompson and Fisher River Valleys Conservation Easement, waterfowl habitat at the Blasdel National Wildlife Refuge, Gallatin County Open Space and critical wildlife lands around Yellowstone National Park. The Trust for Public Land has offices in Helena and Bozeman, Montana.