Whitefish Lake Watershed Project Earns International Honors For Conservation, Collaboration

A collaborative effort between state and federal agencies, conservation groups, timber and energy companies, and a public land trust to acquire and conserve 13,398 in northwest Montana has received international recognition and accolades.

The Whitefish Lake Watershed Project earned the Habitat Conservation Partnership Award at the 2019 Wings Across the Americas Ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 23. The U.S. Forest Service International Programs and Environment for the Americas co-hosted the special event to recognize exceptional efforts in advancing conservation for migratory species.

The Whitefish Lake Watershed Project involved Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and The Trust for Public Land proposing to conserve more than 13,000 acres of high-quality forests, wetlands, and endangered species habitat approximately nine miles northwest of Whitefish. The land, owned by Weyerhaeuser Company, was poised for potential residential development in the future.

The completion of the project placed the land under permanent protected status, managed by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for habitat conservation, public recreation, and sustainable timber resources.

“This project shows what we can achieve when we work together and partner to conserve important habitat for migratory species. It’s not easy, but it’s always worth it,” said FWP Director Martha Williams.

“FWP especially appreciates the commitment from Weyerhaeuser, The Trust for Public Land, Bonneville Power Administration, and DNRC, who have all helped to provide this opportunity to continue sustainable forest management, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, and provide for continued public enjoyment on these treasured lands.”

TPL acquired the entire project area from Weyerhaeuser in 2017. FWP, with the guidance from Region 1 staff members Alan Wood and Kris Tempel, purchased a conservation easement on approximately 10,218 acres. The DNRC purchased the underlying fee ownership from TPL once the conservation easement was in place.

BPA provided funding for the purchase of the other 3,180 acres in the Swift Creek drainage. In exchange for their funding, BPA retained a perpetual conservation easement on the five sections. The U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program provided funding along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grant. FWP’s Habitat Montana Program also provided funding.

The area’s low-elevation wetlands and meadows are home to many birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies, along with other wildlife, such as grizzly bears, lynx, and wolves. The acquisition fills a gap in a large network of public lands that provide critical wildlife habitat as well as significant economic drivers through recreation and timber.

The Wings Across the Americas awards recognize the achievements of Forest Service employees and their partners in bird, bat, butterfly and dragonfly conservation.

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