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By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Montana Elk Habitat Conserved, Opened to Public Access

 

September 7, 2017

Mike Mueller

The view of the Swan Mountain Range from the Holland Lake Project.

SWAN VALLEY - A 640-acre private parcel within a mile of Holland Lake is now federally owned thanks to a collaborative effort between the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a conservation-minded family and the U.S. Forest Service.

The landowner had the acreage on the real estate market. A couple years ago they contacted the RMEF to see if they were interested in purchasing it.

"We purchase and protect lands [like the Holland Lake Project] because they are so vital and the impacts from resident development would be irreversible and permanent," said Mike Mueller, RMEF senior lands program manager.

Since RMEF does not purchase and own land long term, the obvious partner for this project was the Flathead National Forest since the section is surrounded by the forest.

The Flathead National Forest and Region said the section was a high priority for acquisition. It offers important summer and winter habitat for elk and white-tailed deer. It also provides key habitat for grizzly bears, Canada lynx and a vast array of other wildlife. Additionally, it contains riparian habitat via springs and a chain of wetland ponds that feed a tributary of Holland Creek.

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Mueller said the landowner was generous with his or her time and they were able to strike a deal for purchase. Once the funds became available, RMEF purchased the property at the appraised value and simultaneously conveyed it to the Flathead National Forest.

"The same day we purchased it, it became public land," said Mueller. "We are really excited about it. It is a really incredible, unique piece of property. Since it was located within a mile of Holland Lake it was under some considerable pressure for residential development. The landowner wanted to see it conserved so we jumped in and made that happen."

The Forest Service purchased the property from RMEF with Land and Water Conservation Funds. These funds come from off-shore oil and gas leases and are designated by Congress. The RMEF submitted the project for the Land and Water Conservation funds.

The RMEF worked with the Montana delegation to secure the $3.5 million to purchase the property. Mueller said it was ranked sixth in the nation and was one of the highest priorities for the Flathead National Forest and the region. This was the first project to be completed in the 2017 fiscal year with Land and Water Conservation Funds.

"This acquisition will improve public land access and help to preserve the recreation setting and valuable wildlife habitat in the popular Holland Lake area," said Rich Kehr, Swan Lake district ranger in a press release.

The Swan Lake Ranger District will assess the management needs of the property and manage it according to the Flathead National Forest Management Plan. If funds are needed to complete projects on the lands, they can apply to the RMEF for stewardship projects including timber management, water development and weed control.

"The Elk Foundation doesn't walk away from these projects," said Mueller. "We stay in the game and like to help our state and federal agencies manage these lands long-term."

Mueller continued, "We are really excited that this landowner was patient and allowed us to protect it. All the credit goes to the willing landowner to sell the property at the appraised value and made this all happen."

For more information about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation visit rmef.org or call Mueller directly at 406-493-6650.

 

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