Ecosystem: Northern Continental Divide
Location: Northwestern Montana
Project Type: Acquisition
In northwest Montana’s Clearwater River Valley, Deer Creek flows through the rolling foothills and boreal forest that descend the east side of the Mission Mountains. Those fortunate enough to experience the area in autumn will see western larch illuminated in gold, a stunning contrast to the spruce-fir forest that line the slender river valley between the Missions to the west and the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the east.
One of the crown jewels of the Clearwater River Valley is the Deer Creek Parcel and adjoining large blocks of land, known for their extraordinary value to fish and wildlife. Deer Creek supports one of the most important bull trout populations in the region and also produces a genetically pure strain of native westslope cutthroat trout. The area is rich in elk, moose, deer and a variety of smaller species, including snowshoe hare. Huge hunks of adjacent acreage serve as crossroads for Canada lynx moving from the Mission Mountains into the valley, and the area is a key linkage zone for grizzly bears traveling between the Missions and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
That’s why Vital Ground partnered with several organizations and agencies to help support the Deer Creek Conservation Project, which is located six miles northwest of Seeley Lake and at the southern boundary of the Northern Continental Divide Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone.
November’s acquisition comprises 640 contiguous acres adjacent to Lolo National Forest and Plum Creek Timber Company lands. Most importantly, this parcel adds a key section to the 24,000-acre Marshall Creek Wildlife Management Area that was acquired by Montana’s Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) from Plum Creek as part of the Montana Legacy Project. The Project included more than 310,000 acres of industrial forest land scattered across four Montana counties and numerous watersheds. The Nature Conservancy along with their partner, The Trust for Public Land, raised funds necessary to forever preserve this vital habitat.
When Plum Creek began liquidating large holdings in the Seeley Lake area, the research was already in place to validate its value. FWP had already identified the Marshall Creek Wildlife Management Area as one of its highest conservation priorities because of the vast benefits to fish, wildlife and outdoors enthusiasts. The agency purchased the Marshall Creek Wildlife Management Area from The Nature Conservancy in July 2011. The Deer Creek addition was one more piece of the puzzle that helps complete the Montana Legacy Project.
Particularly meaningful is keeping intact an undeveloped 1.3-mile section of Deer Creek, which is not only an outstanding bull and westslope cutthroat trout spawning stream, but also a domestic water source for the people of Seeley Lake. A decade’s worth of science shows the area and its high-elevation, unique forest type is a stronghold for Canada lynx. And activity patterns collected from collared grizzlies tracked them moving through Deer Creek and connecting lands to the north shore of Seeley Lake. Vital Ground proudly partnered with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Five Valleys Land Trust and other groups to help protect this key wildlife habitat in northwest Montana’s Clearwater River Valley, and the William H. Donner Foundation provided a key grant to help us support the project.