By Mike Schaedel
The Nature Conservancy 

The power of partnership


As winter stubbornly makes its exit, many of us are busy making plans for summer adventures.

The wealth of public land that surrounds our community means we don’t have to go too far afield to enjoy the great outdoors and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is happy to have played a part in ensuring our access to some of those places.

Most recently, we completed an exciting two-phase transfer of approximately 11,000 acres of land on Game Ridge, above Nine Mile Prairie - stretching from Dunnigan Gulch to Woodchuck Canyon, - to the Bureau of Land Management. (BLM) This transfer secures the area for high quality hiking, hunting, snowmobiling, biking and other forms of recreation.

The land is also important winter habitat for wildlife such as elk. Since they are also “working” lands there will be ongoing restoration projects to improve forest health and resilience to fire, as well as continued use by neighboring cattle ranches.

For more than 20 years, TNC has worked with the community to help change the face and the future of lands following decades of mostly industrial timber harvest.

As Plum Creek began transitioning away from the logging business in Montana, TNC saw an opportunity to not only preserve the public’s access to this land but to leave it in better shape than when we bought it. That’s why restoration is a hallmark of the Nine Mile/Woodchuck project; one we envision to be the future of our conservation efforts in the region.

Like conservation, restoration is very much a team effort. In this case, much of that work was thanks to an exciting partnership between TNC, BLM and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. (CSKT)

You have probably already seen evidence this spring of the controlled burns conducted by the BLM, CSKT and TNC, along with other partners such as the Blackfoot Challenge, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Fish Wildlife and Parks, Forest Service and a host of hard-working contractors and private landowners.

While no one likes to see smoke in the woods, we know that these low intensity burns can reduce the severity of fires during the summer, leaving more living after the smoke stops than if we hadn’t treated the land with fire.

The burns we’re doing this spring took months of planning and on-the-ground preparation. They also took a whole other set of community members to put into motion.

Before the first drip torch was ignited, the team worked with local contractors to thin some of the trees from the area to be burned. The merchantable trees were then shipped to Pyramid Mountain Lumber and Willis Enterprises or sold as firewood – supporting more community jobs.

We are thankful for the leadership of the CSKT within this partnership. They not only bring the knowledge and skills forged over centuries of land stewardship but, through the Reserved Treaty Rights Lands Program, they are bringing the funds to make much of the work happen.

For far too long, the first stewards of these lands have not had a seat at the table when plans are formed and decisions made that involve how best to manage and protect our lands and waters.

Today, the Tribes are not only taking a seat at the table, they are helping to guide the work.

We’re also thankful to visionary leaders at the BLM. They too, understand that restoration on this large scale is only possible through strong partnerships and quick action.

Partnerships like this one are powerful. We can accomplish so much more when we join forces and pull in the same direction.

The land tells us what it needs, it is our responsibility to meet those needs. And what is good for the land is also good for the community.

By keeping our forests healthy, we are keeping our community safe and honoring the values it holds dear.

It is also this spirit of partnership with the community that TNC will carry forward as we find a home for the remaining lands we manage around Placid Lake, Lost Prairie and Blanchard Creek.


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