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It's Do or Die
for Game Range Purchase


March 2, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana


by Mike Thompson,
Wildlife Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
by Mike Thompson

 

Eighteen months have passed since the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission signaled its first "thumbs up" for the Blackfoot-Clearwater 50th Anniversary Project, and it's been eight months since the 50th Anniversary Celebration was held at the Game Range.

So, where are we now?

Well, I'm happy to report that we're a remarkably long way down the path toward bringing 7,800 acres of Plum Creek inholdings within the Game Range into state and federal ownership.

But, there's no time for celebrating. We've still got plenty of hard work ahead of us.

Phase I of the 50th Anniversary Project is an excellent example of how wonderfully far we've come, but yet how far we have to go. And, remember, there are three other phases in various stages of progress as well.

You may remember the kickoff of Phase I at the Celebration last June 12. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) contributed $372,325 and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) contributed $50,000 toward purchase of the first 333 acres. Then RMEF signed an option to purchase the remaining 523 acres in Phase I from Plum Creek. The option expires in about three months from today, on May 31.

Over the past twelve months or so, RMEF has raised approximately $200,000 toward the option price to complete Phase I. This has been a tremendous effort, led by RMEF's Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter and the community of Seeley Lake.

Fundraising continues at a frantic pace. As things stand now, it looks like RMEF volunteers have strategies in place to raise another $97,000 in time for Phase I. If you talk with the volunteers, they'll tell you they plan to bring in much more, and anyone would be foolish to doubt them. But, for planning purposes as the option deadline bears down on us, the $97,000 figure allows us to withstand some setbacks along with our progress. In addition, Five Valleys Land Trust has raised $10,000 with the Monte Dolack poster project.

Despite this tremendous level of public support, these contributionsif they are all realizedwill still leave us $375,500 short of the funding needed to complete Phase I.

As recently as a couple weeks ago, we thought we had at least $300,000 of this in our grasp. A team of FWP professionals and the Montana Forest Stewardship Committee had worked to make Montana eligible for an annual grant from the federal Forest Legacy Program. The purpose of the Forest Legacy Program is "to identify environmentally important forest areas that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses, and through the use of conservation easements and other mechanisms, to promote forest land protection and other conservation opportunities." Our proposal to complete Phase I with Montana's first grant from the Forest Legacy Program was recommended for funding by the state Forest Legacy Subcommittee in January. Things looked very good.

You can imagine our disappointment when we learned last week that Forest Legacy grants to the states were victims of the latest Congressional budgeting process. Montana went from an anticipated grant amount of $600,000 to a realized amount of zero in the space of only a few short days. (However, Montana's application for a conservation easement on Plum Creek lands in the Thompson-Fisher drainages in northwest Montana was rewarded with a grant of $1,000,000 from the national Forest Legacy fund, which involved a separate process.)

So, while there is cause for joy and optimism in Game Range land, there is no time to reflect on it. May 31 is bearing down upon us. We need to sell a ton of raffle tickets for the Rich Ranch pack trip into the Bob Marshall, the elk hunt at the East Moreno Ranch in New Mexico, and the 4-wheeler. We need to sell the Conrad Rowe limited edition prints of the Game Range, and more Monte Dolack posters. We need more RMEF Habitat Partners for the Blackfoot-Clearwater Project (contribution of $2,500 or more). To help, please contact Wayne Heaton, Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter Chair, at 406-677-3773 as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the pace of work on Phase II is accelerating. Plum Creek and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) are in negotiations on the terms of an exchange that would bring some 3,000 acres of Plum Creek inholdings into DNRC ownership. At the same time, DNRC and FWP are working hot and heavy on an environmental impact statement (EIS) to be released for public review in late summer or early fall. We're on a pace to complete Phase II in early 2001, pending public review and approvals by the FWP Commission and Land Board. You can still view the scoping notice for this project at DNRC's Internet website (www.dnrc.state.mt.us/eis_ea.html).

We have reason to hope for some good news from the Lolo National Forest on Phase III later this month, but we're still kicking dirt on Phase IV.

One final word of advice. Please get a cardiovascular checkup soon. Because I'm sure our hearts will continue to be subjected to alternating jolts of stress and euphoria until we succeed in taking advantage of Plum Creek's offer for the public to gain control of its Game Range.

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