Ecosystem: Northern Continental Divide
Location: Northwestern Montana
Project Type: Conservation Easements
Elk Flats Neighbors Project Permanently Protects Swan Valley Fish and Wildlife Habitat
Vital Ground teamed up with six landowners in northwest Montana’s Swan Valley to help conserve more than 300 acres of wildlife habitat. Through a combination of five permanent conservation easements and one fee-title acquisition, these properties near Condon, Mont., will forever benefit grizzly bears, whitetail and mule deer, elk, moose, mountain lion, songbirds and sensitive fish and wildlife species.
Through generous bargain sales involving significant donations of portions of each conservation easement, the landowners and Vital Ground have built on the organization’s very first conservation easement near Condon – Coyote Forest – which was completed in 2005 in partnership with Bud Moore. It is fitting that one of the six ownerships is held by Bud’s son, Bill, and his wife, Jean.
The project has resulted from several years of discussions and relationships built around a common vision for the Elk Flats. “We are continuing the concept of maintaining vital wildlife habitat as well as productive private forests,” says Bill Moore, one of the participating landowners. “We are ‘listening to the land’ and striking a sustainable balance in our part of the Upper Swan Valley.”
Joining the Moores and Vital Ground in the collaboration are Larry and Helen Rasmussen, Mark and Carolyn Lawrence, Linn Lawrence, Don Schmitz and Michael Stevenson.
In addition to protecting terrestrial wildlife habitat with significant documentation of grizzly bear use, the project also helps protect extensive riparian features located in the headwaters of the Swan Valley’s Cold Creek, an important tributary to the Swan River.
“Cold Creek is designated critical habitat for bull trout and these properties directly contribute to both water quality and quantity in the watershed, as well as provide habitat for myriad wildlife species ranging from grizzly bears and Canada lynx to waterfowl and amphibians,” said Ryan Lutey, Vital Ground’s Director of Lands.
Since Vital Ground’s first conservation easement in the area, significant conservation investments in the area have also been made by organizations and agencies including The Nature Conservancy of Montana, Swan Ecosystem Center, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, U.S. Forest Service and Bonneville Power Administration.
In total, the parcels included in the Elk Flats Neighbors Project share common boundaries with nearly two miles of U.S. Forest Service holdings leading to much larger protected blocks of wildlife habitat. In conjunction with the other public and private conservation holdings in the area, this effort will help bridge the valley floor between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Mission Mountains Wilderness.
In addition to generous donations of the landowners and many individual donors, the Elk Flats Neighbors Project is also supported by the Charlotte Y. Martin Foundation, Cinnabar Foundation, Cutler Foundation, Metabolic Studio, Missoula Open Space Bond Fund, Montana Coffee Traders, Oberweiler Foundation, Travelers for Open Lands and the William H. Donner Foundation.
Vital Ground works cooperatively with local communities, state and federal agencies and landowners. Traditional land uses such as timber cutting, livestock raising, and haying are generally okay under Vital Ground’s conservation easements and done sustainably under a management plan arranged with the landowner.
Based in Missoula, Vital Ground addresses the issue of habitat fragmentation by permanently protecting crucial lands for the benefit of grizzly bears and other wide-ranging wildlife.