Seeley Swan Pathfinder
March 18, 1999
by Mike Thompson
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks
If this Fiftieth Anniversary of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range is about anything at all, it's about awarenesstaking nothing for granted. But, in the middle of my slide presentation to The Blackfoot Challenge membership last month, I realized I may have been taking the most important ingredient of the Fiftieth Anniversary Project for granted, and leaving really important things unsaid.
Unless you're picking up a Pathfinder for the first time in about a year, you already know that the Fiftieth Anniversary Project is a cooperative effort to bring some 7,800 acres of Plum Creek property within the Game Range into state ownership.
So, I was explaining the ins and outs of this very ambitious project to an assembled mass of about 70 people at the Lubrecht Forest conference center when I flipped to my slide that lists the project partners. It's a gorgeous slide, by the way, thanks to the expert photography of Milo Burchama big bull elk silhouetted on the skyline. Milo also provided plenty of room in the sky for the computer graphics service at the University of Montana to superimpose the names of the government agencies and private organizations that are making the Fiftieth Anniversary Project happen.
I read the list aloud and said a few words about each: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Five Valleys Land Trust, Blackfoot-Clearwater Citizens Advisory Council, Lolo National Forest, Bureau of Land Management.
But, in the moment when I heard myself say "Plum Creek Timber Company," I knew I had been taking too much for granted, and leaving too much unsaid, when it came to publicly acknowledging the contribution of Plum Creek Timber Company.
I knew it when I said, "There would be no Fiftieth Anniversary Project without the cooperation of Plum Creek Timber Company."
Think about it. All of the other partners are importantcritically importantto the progress we have made so far. But, hypothetically speaking, no other partner is absolutely indispensable to the success of this project. Even if FWP dropped out of the project tomorrow, it would be possible for other partners to acquire and protect the 7,800 acres in the Game Range. It would be possible.
But, if Plum Creek declined to entertain proposals by the state or other conservation interests to exchange or acquire lands, there would be no project. Period.
What's more, Plum Creek's involvement in the state's effort to solidify the Game Range is completely voluntary, and of the company's own accord. In fact, some of the strategies that have been most fruitfula possible land exchange between Plum Creek and DNRC, and the involvement of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, to name a couplewere originally suggested by Denny Sigars, Plum Creek's Unit Manager in Missoula.
Plum Creek was interested in managing timber on the Game Range for the foreseeable future when Rich Clough, John Firebaugh and I first discussed acquisition options with Denny in early 1994. We could all agree that Plum Creek's property on the Game Range is good ground for growing timber. There was no strong business motivation for Plum Creek to look elsewhere. And, if you care to check Plum Creek's Internet home page, you will see that none of the 7,800 acres on the Game Range are being marketed for sale.
So, I have no reason to doubt the explanation Denny offered to the crowd at Lubrecht last month. He said he didn't know much about the Game Range when Plum Creek bought Champion's Montana timberlands in 1993. In this respect, he was like a lot of other folks who drive past the Game Range sign from time to time, but have never really taken an interest in learning what goes on behind it. But, through his dealings with FWP, Plum Creek biologist Brian Gilbert and forester Neil Crawford, Denny said he's learned a lot about the wildlife habitat values on the Game Range over the years that followed, and he's come to appreciate the Game Range as something special.
Make no mistake about it. Plum Creek will continue to make sound business decisions regarding the possible exchange or sale of any Plum Creek property on the Game Range. But, from where we stand at FWP, it's more than enough for Denny and Plum Creek to be negotiating in good faith toward the very real possibility of solidified state ownership across the most important wildlife habitats on the Game Range.
And, for Plum Creek's indispensable cooperation in the Fiftieth Anniversary Project, I know I speak on behalf of FWP and all the project partners when I offer my sincerest, "Thank you."