The Trust for Public Land, SPP Montana, U.S. Forest Service Partner Protect Nearly 15,000 Acres Near Lolo Creek
The Trust for Public Land, SPP Montana and the United States Forest Service (USFS) announced today the permanent protection of 14,800 acres of important fish and wildlife habitat and public recreation access to the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail owned by Southern Pine Plantations (SPP).
The property borders Lolo Creek and its protection will complete the Lolo Trails Landmark Project south of Missoula. While providing permanent public access to extraordinary recreation, the move also precludes development and protects incredible wildlife habitat and key landscape connectivity.
“These flourishing forests are crucial to the health, identity, and economy of the Missoula and Lolo communities. Protecting them gives residents and visitors permanent access to thousands of acres of backcountry outdoor recreation opportunities,” said Catherine Schmidt, Field Representative with The Trust for Public Land. “At the same time, it prevents fragmentation and redirects development away from the wildland-urban interface, making it a vital investment in healthy wildlife and fish, world-class public recreation, and the Montana way of life.”
The project complements an existing network of public land, including the adjacent Lolo National Forest, and protects critical habitat for bull trout, a threatened species as designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as important wildlife connectivity corridors for Canada lynx and grizzly bear.
“The closing of this acquisition represents several years of dedicated work by partners to ensure a seamless transfer into public ownership. While these lands provide important recreation access and habitat connectivity, they are also historically and culturally significant areas to both the Nez Perce Tribe and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation,” stated Carolyn Upton, Lolo National Forest Supervisor. “This acquisition brings us closer to eliminating the previous checker board ownership to ensure a greater continuity of management and ultimately, the conservation of the area’s history and access for the benefit of generations to come.”
Conveying this property from SPP Montana to the USFS ensures permanent, public access to high-quality recreation within a County that is losing open space to new development every day. This project would not have been possible without a public-private collaboration and SPP’s conservation sensibility.
“When we acquired these lands from Weyerhaeuser, we agreed to see this project to completion. We’re proud to work with The Trust for Public Land and the US Forest Service to protect this incredible property and provide recreational access to so many Montanans,” said Pat Patton, the Manager for SPP Montana.
Beyond the trails, the undeveloped expanse of land offers myriad opportunities for the rapidly growing communities of Missoula and Lolo to hunt, mountain bike, collect firewood, bird watch, fish, picnic, and cross-country ski. This project will complement the Lolo National Forest, which experiences over 1.5 million visitors, and will connect to trails in the Blue Mountain Recreation Area, which provides high-quality motorized and non-motorized recreation opportunities in Missoula’s backyard.
“This land acquisition is rich with important natural resources, which provide for a healthy watershed and public recreational opportunities,” said Dave Strohmaier, chair of the Missoula Board of County Commissioners. “We’re grateful to see the work of this collaboration come to fruition so Missoula County residents and visitors alike can enjoy its recreational and historical value for generations to come.”
This project owes much of its success to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was fully funded through passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in August 2020.
“Montana’s public lands are world-class and the Lolo Trails project will provide more access and opportunities on public lands right outside of Missoula,” said Senator Steve Daines (R-MT). “It is great to see funding from my historic ‘Great American Outdoors Act’ supporting projects like this which will establish new trail connections, hunting, and fishing opportunities.”
“Montana’s landscapes are the envy of the world, and this project is great news for our public lands, our economy, and our state,” said Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). “This project will protect critical wildlife habitat and increase access to popular recreation areas, and is exactly why I fought for years to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I look forward to continuing our work to ensure landscapes like this – and the outdoor recreation economy that depends on them – will remain open to the public for generations to come.”
About The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.