Trumbull Creek conservation easement closes

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A planned conservation easement would protect land around Trumble Creek owned by the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co.

A major conservation easement on F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. property just north of Columbia Falls was closed last week. The Trust for Public Land in partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks secured a conservation easement on 7,068 acres in the Trumbull Creek area on the south face of the Whitefish Range.

The terms of the easement permanently bar commercial and residential development on the property while continuing its historical use for commercial timberland and recreation. The land will continue to be owned Stoltze and will be permanently managed for sustainable commercial forestry and natural resource benefits. The agreement protects local forestry jobs, important habitat for fish and wildlife, and ensures continued access for recreational activities, including hunting, fishing, cross country skiing, and hiking, the Trust noted.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Stoltze general manager Chuck Roady said Friday. “So many people use the land for recreation, from berry picking to hunting. The Stoltze family feels really good about it.”

Stoltze owns about 40,000 acres of lands in Northwest Montana. The company in 2016 negotiated a similar easement on 3,000 acres in the Haskill Basin just to the east of Trumbull Creek with FWP, The Trust and the city of Whitefish. With the Trumbull easement, a full 25 percent of the company’s lands are now under easement.

Roady said the company would get inquiries at least once a week about whether it wanted to sell property in the area. It’s prime wooded real estate. But he said the Stoltze family’s business interest aren’t in real estate.

“The family’s interest is in growing trees,” he said.

The Stoltze mill is one of the last independent, family-owned mills in Montana and has a 100-year-plus history in the Flathead Valley.

State and federal partners jointly funded the $9.5 million conservation easement, and Stoltze made the easement possible with a significant donation of land value, The Trust noted. Federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund was provided to the project partners through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Legacy Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund program. The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses a small fraction of revenues generated by offshore oil and gas royalty payments to protect and enhance outdoor recreation and natural resources; it is not supported with general taxpayer dollars.

State partners include the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, established by Congress to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and promote public access, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Habitat Montana program. Under terms of the agreement, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will hold the conservation easement and monitor its implementation.

The project had the support of all three members of Montana’s congressional delegation.

“This is another example of why on-the-ground collaboration is pivotal to good forest management,” Montana Sen. Jon Tester said. “Thanks to the Stoltze family and local partners who crafted this agreement to preserve public access, protect jobs, strengthen wildlife, and expand recreation opportunities on over 10,000 acres outside of Glacier Park. I will continue to stand with Montanans to support LWCF, which makes these types of projects possible.”

“I commend The Trust for Public Land, the State of Montana, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber for this partnership. This is a commonsense project that would keep the land actively managed by one of Montana’s oldest family-owned mills and facilitate outdoor recreation,” Sen. Steve Daines said.

The land also supports educational programs, including the Flathead Family Forestry Expo and the Ravenwood Outdoor Learning Center. Thanks to a longstanding relationship with the Stoltze family, these programs will continue to use the property for self-guided trail tours, forest education classes, and environmental science and wilderness survival workshops.

“Flathead County and neighboring cities are rapidly changing and growing. We’re pleased to have helped preserve the heritage of local land while also protecting public access and wildlife habitat,” said Dick Dolan, Northern Rockies Director of The Trust for Public Land.

The property also supports a host of species, including grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and westslope cutthroat trout.

“The drainages and surrounding forests provide very important habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species, including many rare and sensitive species, all of which will benefit from this project. We appreciate the Stoltze family, the public, and all partners for their support,” said Jim Williams, regional supervisor of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

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