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Preserving water quality, recreation, and a working forest in Whitefish

Whitefish Lake. 75% of the municipal water supply for Whitefish comes from Haskill Basin. In the summer, when that supply runs low, the city pumps and treats water from Whitefish Lake.
Katrin Frye

The U-S Forest Service ranks a Whitefish project involving drinking water, recreation, and logging as a number one priority in the nation. The Haskill Basin project encompasses about 3-thousand-acres of the F.H. Stoltze Lumber Company’s land.

Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld said it’s a popular recreation area, and it also supplies 75% of the city’s water.

“Stoltze has allowed the city access to our municipal water diversions in Haskill Creek as a neighborly accommodation, and to date those access agreements haven’t been codified or even memorialized between Stoltze and the city of Whitefish,” Muhlfeld said.

The city is looking to make this agreement official, and keep it that way by buying up the development rights to the land.

Whitefish teamed up with the Trust for Public Lands to find a way to preserve this land as a source for water and recreation, and also as a working forest.

Northern Rockies Director Deb Love with the Trust for Public Lands said Stoltze has been an incredible neighbor, but also notes this land knocks up against former Stoltze land that’s now part of the Whitefish Mountain Resort, and the exclusive Iron Horse development.

“So, these forest lands are highly developable. In fact, across the country, for the Forest Legacy Program; which provides funding for conservation easements on working forest land, they look at how- what is the development threat on these lands, and Haskill Basin was ranked number one, in the entire country, for forest legacy funding,” Love said.

Buying the development rights comes with a $17-million-dollar-price tag.

The US Forest Service announced a $7-million-dollar Forest Legacy Grant to the Haskill Basin project.

Love said the agreement they’re working on puts a conservation easement on the land, ensuring public access, but keeping it in private ownership.

The city still has to raise $10-million-dollars.

Muhlfeld said the city is hoping to win an additional $2-million-dollars from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Habitat Conservation Program.

He said the city put together a working group to collaborate with the Trust for Public Lands and the city’s conservation arm, Whitefish Legacy Partners to go to the public and figure out how private and public funding can complete the project.

Muhlfeld said they hope to have it wrapped up in the next year and a half.