Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

Enjoying the present and looking ahead


Summer is in full bloom. Across the West, our natural areas are experiencing unprecedented visitation. With things opening up and more people traveling farther from home, this trend is only expected to increase. Montana’s forestlands are no exception. Higher numbers of campers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts will have an impact on our lands and the wildlife that depend on them. We remind everyone to treat the landscape respectfully and follow posted regulations. Watch out for those campfires, stay on the trail and please pack out what you pack in so both nature and people benefit!

If you visit Nature Conservancy land, you may bump into James Ott, our newest Montana Forest intern. James grew up in the shadow of the Mission Mountains but spent a good portion of his life away from home. He spent two decades in the Navy, many of those as a supervisor gaining valuable leadership experience. After retiring from the service, he settled in Seattle and spent a year working for the local park service. The work stuck with him and he moved back to Montana to pursue a Parks and Recreation Management degree and a Business minor from the University of Montana.

As a Montana Conservation Corps “Conservation Fellow,” James will spend the next five months assisting The Nature Conservancy (TNC) by patrolling and stewarding our forest lands and educating summer users about our Montana Forests Open Lands Policy. Feel free to chat him up or just say “Hi.”

James will have less land to survey than last summer’s intern. By the end of last year, TNC has transferred more than 17,600 acres of our land to public ownership. The Bureau of Land Management acquired two parcels in the Blackfoot River Corridor, while the U.S. Forest Service purchased 12,000 acres in the Upper Twin Creek and Lake Placid areas – all these lands will remain open for public access and recreation.

“These sales represent a big step toward the vision of a secure future for these forests in transition” says TNC’s Western Montana Land Protection Director Chris Bryant. “Outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife and local communities all benefit from the results of this partnership.” These sales were made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund and there are more in sight for the future.

While we can’t make that future happen any faster, TNC and our partners are hoping we can speed up the plans for the future of about 40,000 acres we still own. To that end, in March, we engaged in fast-paced assessment of this land stretching from Fawn Creek through Seeley Lake and farther south all the way to Game Ridge.

Known as a “Design Sprint” – a methodology developed by Google Ventures and adapted by TNC’s Agility Lab – the week-long process aimed to develop a partnership approach for the land’s future use and ownership. Small, cross-functional teams worked with a facilitator to build a framework and timeline for finding a permanent conservation solution for the land. Each team was immersed in a collaborative and rapid deep-dive experience to design and test ideas. TNC staff were joined by representatives from the Con- federated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Blackfoot Challenge, the Bureau of Land Management and the Seeley Lake Community Foundation.

“This was the first of a thousand steps,” says Montana State Director Amy Croover, “But what was truly inspiring about the process was the realization of the trust our partners have in TNC.”

We also have a bit of good news for the community of Potomac and forests in the Gold and Twin Creeks area. A $288,217 Forest Action Plan grant to TNC by the state of Montana is enabling TNC and our partners to expand our work reducing the risk of severe wildfire in the forests around these communities.

One exciting new component of this work is a plan to use some of the unmarketable materials (such as treetops, limbs and small diameter trees) – materials that, traditionally, would have been burned on site. Now, we hope to put it to work as biochar. Biochar is a charcoal-like material used to enhance soil health. It’s produced by subjecting the woody debris to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. The resulting product can be spread on the forest floor and on nearby agricultural land to enhance and improve soil.

We hope everyone is looking forward to a restful and safe holiday weekend. You can find our open lands policy at, and if you have any questions or comments, please contact Chris Bryant at 214-6437 or


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