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New Easement Secures Public Access To NW Montana Timberland

The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses royalties from offshore oil and gas development to fund outdoor projects.

Public access to roughly 7,200 acres of private timberland in northwest Montana is now permanently protected. State regulators Thursday approved purchasing an easement on the land for $4.5 million.

Earlier this year, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposed purchasing the large easement adjacent to the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge. The state Fish and Wildlife Commission has now approved that proposal.

FWP spokesperson Dillon Tabish says the land near Marion is a popular hunting destination.

"This proposed project area is one of the most popular places for elk hunting ... It’s just a really key piece of habitat in northwest Montana that’s been open to public access for generations."

A majority of the funding for the easement will come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. An FWP program, a state grant and a $400,000 gift from land owner Southern Pine Plantations will fund the remainder of the project.

Southern Pine will continue to log the land, but the easement will prevent the company from subdividing or developing the property. That was a major concern local leaders and area residents voiced when Southern Pine purchased the land from Washington-based timber giant Weyerhaeuser earlier this year.

Aaron Bolton is Montana Public Radio's Flathead Valley reporter.
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