Missoula County spends some of its $5 million in voter-approved open space bond

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners voted, unanimously, to spend $304,500 of its open space bond money towards purchasing conservation easements on two properties in the Blackfoot drainage.

One was a 3,250 acre easement on Sunset Hill near Greenough, adjacent to a 4,000 acre conservation easement held by the Potter family – known for its environmentally friendly forestry practices. The plan is for the Potter family to extend its forestry practices onto this piece of land, and restore the area to its pre-1885/ Ananconda Copper Mining Company condition, when clearcutting was prevalent.

Public access comes with the Sunset Hill piece – acquired as part of a larger range project with The Nature Conservancy and Plum Creek Timberlands (part of the Blackfoot Challenge.) It was purchased for $200,000.

The second easement, 333 acres, was on the Circle Bar Ranch and purchased for $104,500. It protects agricultural lands, rare wetlands, a section of recently restored Ashby Creek and a recently discovered genetically pure strain of westslope cuthroat trout fishery.

A total of 730 acres is now protected on the ranch – with the remaining acreage placed under easement with the aid of a federal grant buying the development rights.

Since Circle Bar is a working ranch, no public access was granted.

All great stuff. The Sunset Hill was a bargain – and a hugely significant amount of land. The Circle Bar acquisition protects some very important wildlife habitat area.

I hope the Commissioners look to preserving lands further west, out towards Frenchtown, where development pressures are increasing but while there is still some ag land that hasn’t succumbed to the pressure of 5-acre ranchettes dotting the hillsides.

Same for the Clinton area, especially with river frontage properties, where rising taxes are increasing pressures on older landowners to seek out financial solutions to maintaining the property.

The Lolo area could use some help too – the recent sale of the Francis and DJ Maclay property to conservation buyers will protect a huge amount of land, but ranch properties to both the north and south of the ranch remain threatened by development. I hear there are some pretty big elk that roam the Maclay Ranch – and with the Bitterroot running through that stretch of ranches, protection of that area would provide not only protection for valuable wildlife habitat, but also one of the least impacted viewsheds in the County. The sea of lights, at night, that float out over the northern part of Ravalli have yet to migrate over into Missoula. It’d be nice to keep it that way.

So I ask: Do you have any favorite areas that you think are work some of your taxpayer dollar?

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