August 12, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
With all the publicity about the 50th Anniversary of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range, and all the talk about hopes, dreams, objectives and strategies for bringing 7,800 acres of Plum Creek inholdings into public ownership, it's sometimes been a challenge to glean cold, hard facts from the hype.
But, now that the dust from the June 12th Celebration has settled, it seems like a good time to submit a factual status report.
You may remember that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) prepared a proposal and environmental assessment last spring to purchase approximately 856 acres from Plum Creek. This would be the first transaction (known as Phase I) of the 50th Anniversary Project to acquire all of the targeted 7,800 acres. Most of the nearly 7,000 acres that would be left after the completion of Phase I would be acquired through land exchanges, rather than by purchase.
At a hearing on May 19 in Seeley Lake, the public strongly endorsed FWP's Phase I proposal, and no comments were received in opposition. Subsequently, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission approved the proposal to spend up to $500,000 from FWP's Habitat Montana fund, and the State Board of Land Commissioners added its approval later in June. Although an expenditure of up to $500,000 was authorized, FWP hopes to save some of this budget to kick off fundraising for a final Phase IV purchase next year. FWP's funding contribution toward this project comes from sales of nonresident and resident "Sportsman" hunting licenses, and is legislatively earmarked for acquisition of wildlife habitat.
With the blessing of this public process, FWP and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) jointly purchased fee-title to 333 acres of the Phase I lands at the end of June. FWP spent $372,325 and RMEF added approximately $50,000 to complete this initial transaction. This part of the Phase I deal has closed, and FWP and RMEF are now the owners of record. This first 333 acres includes lands located along the eastern edge of Highway 83, immediately north of the cemetery (roughly between mile markers 3 and 5), but does not include the parcel across from Salmon Lake Campground where the gated road to Boyd Mountain is located.
To address the gated road and the rest of the 523 acres in Phase I, RMEF and Plum Creek signed an "option to purchase," which RMEF may choose to maintain in effect through the spring of 2000 (I don't have the exact date available at this writing). Basically, this option expresses agreement between Plum Creek and RMEF to the terms of a sale, and provides RMEF with a limited time to raise the necessary funding. Until the purchase is completed, Plum Creek remains in ownership control of the last 523 acres in Phase I, with land management options constrained by the option agreement unless RMEF and FWP fail to meet the payment schedule specified in the agreement.
FWP, Five Valleys Land Trust and RMEF will meet later this month to go over our accounting of project funds. As many of you are personally aware, a good funding start is already "in the bank" from the highly successful Blackfoot-Clearwater (Seeley Lake) Chapter Banquet last June 12, the Five Valleys (Missoula) Chapter Banquet that took place on the following Friday, and other continuing RMEF fundraising efforts. Even so, this will leave us roughly $400,000 short of the amount needed to exercise the Phase I purchase option, and we will be implementing specific strategies for a fundraising push to meet that goal as soon as possible.
While firm results have been accumulating on Phase I, progress has also been made on the land exchange phases of the 50th Anniversary Project. Negotiations on possible land exchanges were renewed with vigor after the strong public showing of support at the June 12 Celebration, but to say much more at this stage would force me to leave the arena of hard, cold facts. With your permission, I'll hold off on reiterating hopes and dreams and wait until more useful information becomes available in the coming weeks.
Thanks to the continuing cooperation and perseverance of Plum Creek, RMEF, Five Valleys Land Trust and our other project partners, the 50th Anniversary Project didn't become history with the 50th Anniversary Celebration. It's starting to produce the results you expected.