The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a plan to create the Lost Trail Conservation Area in northwest Montana. The conservation-area designation will allow federal officials to purchase easements to protect wildlife and public access.
The formation of the conservation area will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to purchase up to 100,000 acres of easements that would prevent private timberlands in Flathead and Lincoln counties from being developed and would secure public access. The conservation area is between Libby and Kalispell and is adjacent to the Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge.
Ben Gilles with Fish and Wildlife says the agency is working to secure federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase easements from the two major landowners within the conservation area boundary, Green Diamond Resource Management Company and Southern Pine Plantations.
Both companies are involved in multiple easement deals outside of the new conservation area and have said in the past they generally support work to conserve the land.
"It’s not something that we’re going to be able to come in this, say, this year or next year and purchase one gigantic easement covering almost the whole thing," Giles says. "There will be a phased approach to easement acquisition."
Gilles says there isn’t a defined timeline or even a guarantee that Fish and Wildlife will be able to secure and purchase 100,000 acres in easements.