November 4, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
I'm sure many of you who have donated money and services, bought posters and raffle tickets, participated in auctions, volunteered to work on committees and generally supported the effort to bring the first 856 acres of Plum Creek inholdings within the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range into state and/or other public ownership are asking, "May I please do more?"
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and Plum Creek Timber Company are here to say, "Thank you. Yes, you may."
Introducing Phase II of the 50th Anniversary Project, which in combination with Phase I will bring us halfway to our overall project goal of 7,800 acres. You will have no problem distinguishing between Phase I and Phase II. Phase II is the one that comes at no additional monetary cost to you.
But, we are inviting you to spend some time getting acquainted with Phase II and with the pros and cons of the different ways we could accomplish Phase II. In a nutshell, Phase II involves a land exchange that would transfer about 3,000 acres of Plum Creek ownership in the Game Range to DNRC. And, it involves a management agreement between DNRC and FWP that would attempt to provide wildlife habitat, timber products and revenue for state trust beneficiaries across DNRC and FWP lands on the Game Range.
We're hoping to meet you at our first open house at the Seeley Lake Community Center on Wednesday evening, November 10. Drop in anytime at your convenience between 5:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M. to talk with FWP and DNRC personnel involved in Phase II. The atmosphere will be informal and unstructured until 7:00 P.M., when agency personnel will make a more formal presentation to everyone in attendance.
Phase II is still in a very early stage of development. No decision has been made for DNRC to enter into a land exchange or for DNRC and FWP to enter into a management agreement. In fact, no specific proposal has yet been developed for decision-makers and the public.
The purpose of the open house on November 10 is to explain our ideas and then hear from you before we spend any more time and money. If there is a fatal flaw in our thinking, we'd like to hear about it now, rather than after we've prepared an expensive environmental impact statement (EIS). If there are issues or better opportunities we haven't considered, we also want to know about these to develop a better project proposal.
In other words, this is the beginning of the public involvement process for Phase II, and if we get a preliminary O.K. from the State Land Board in December, the agencies will begin preparing a draft EIS soon after the holidays. If we are on the right track and all goes well, we would expect to have the draft ready for your review next summer. Final decisions would occur in the fall.
In addition to a possible land exchange between DNRC and Plum Creek, we are considering the possibility of a land exchange between FWP and DNRC, involving only lands within the Game Range. The purpose of this exchange would be to block up FWP ownership in the heart of the elk and deer winter range, and block up DNRC ownership on peripheral lands that are better suited for active forest management and generating revenue.
Such an exchange between FWP and DNRC might be beneficial, even if the exchange between DNRC and Plum Creek doesn't occur. That's because DNRC already owns roughly 3,000 acres in the Game Range, and the geographic location of these lands could be better arranged to meet wildlife and state trust objectives.
Specifically, the land FWP is considering for exchange to DNRC is the forested portion of the old Dreyer Ranch, located north and east of Woodworth Road. The meadows on the south and west side of Woodworth Road would not be exchanged, and would remain in FWP ownership.
The Dreyer Ranch is an elk migration corridor, not winter range. As such, responsible forest management under DNRC ownership would be readily compatible with the needs of wildlife in general, and migrating elk in particular. FWP originally purchased these forested acres on the Dreyer Ranch to prevent a developer from buying the property. As long as the land remains forested, undeveloped and accessible to the public during fall hunting seasons, FWP's primary purposes for the Dreyer Ranch would be fulfilled. FWP would ensure this by obtaining a long-term lease or easement on any Dreyer Ranch lands it would trade to DNRC.
Because of the many possible facets to this project, a tremendous amount of fact-finding and preparation has already been invested by both state agencies. It has been a time-consuming process, and we thank the folks at Plum Creek for their patience and support. We also thank the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for defraying the costs of a timber cruise. And, we have a local hero in Don Wood, who graciously donated a timber cruise on FWP lands that may be included in the management agreement and/or exchange.
Confused yet? I hope so because you might be motivated to attend our open house on November 10 (note time, place and agenda above). Or, you may want to visit DNRC's Internet website at (www.dnrc.state.mt.us/eis ea.html) and look for our scoping notice in DNRC's list of environmental documents. The scoping notice can also be viewed at the Pathfinder's website at (www.seeleylake.com/blackfootrmef/gameproject.html).
By the time you read this, I think you'll find a good link from FWP's home page as well. Hard copies of this scoping notice are available by contacting FWP's Missoula office at 406-542-5500.
Thank you for joining us in taking this next step toward completing the 50th Anniversary Project. With your help, we'll do it right.