The completion of the first phase of a three-pronged plan to protect the Whitefish Lake watershed is significant on a couple of levels.
The recent land deal will permanently protect more than 7,000 acres north of Whitefish, saving the crucial watershed area from future development that could have detrimental effects on Whitefish Lake. The deal also shows what’s possible when government agencies and the private sector cooperate for the greater good.
As Kristin Kovalik of the Trust for Public Land put it: “It’s a great day for Montana and for conservation.”
Players in this public-private partnership went the distance to preserve the forested land. First, the Trust for Public Land bought the land from corporate timber giant Weyerhaeuser. Then Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks purchased a $15.5 million conservation easement funded by private partners and the state and federal government. Somewhere in the mix was important involvement from hunting, fishing and recreation groups, too.
The final maneuver was the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation purchasing the land, with its easement, from the Trust.
The end result is that those 7,000 acres, about 11 square miles, are now part of the Stillwater State Forest.
Two sections of the watershed project still need to be completed — a 3,000-acre chunk of the Lazy Creek area and the 3,000-acre Swift Creek section of the watershed. With a successful template now in place, we expect the myriad public and private partners will continue to work together for the permanent protection of the entirety of these valuable lands.