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Community group gets forestland.

The checkerboard that defines Swan Valley, Montana, has a new green square.

A $10.7 million agreement--reached last fall by the Trust for Public Land, Bonneville Power Administration, and Plum Creek Timber Company--protects 1,761 acres from development in the spectacular valley in northwestern Montana between the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountains wilderness areas.

The transaction represents a victory for the Swan Ecosystem Center and its five-year effort to obtain forestland to benefit this rural community (see Winter 2005 issue). Under the multi-party pact, the nonprofit citizens group acquired half of a 640-acre section in the Elk Creek drainage, a critical habitat for the native bull trout federal officials consider a threatened species. The Ecosystem Center, based in Condon, will focus on enhancing the fishery and related habitat under a management plan with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which acquired the other 320 acres in the Elk Creek section.

"It's kind of stunning," says Anne Dahl, the Ecosystem Center's executive director. "This is the most important piece of land in the valley and we got it for the community."

The Elk Creek area is part of the 1,761 acres protected under the transaction, which was funded by a grant from the Bonneville Power Administration. The remaining land completes a 7,204-acre conservation easement in the Goat and Squeezer creek drainages in the Swan River State Forest at the north end of the valley.

The Ecosystem Center plans to manage the Elk Creek land to maintain corridors for wildlife, including gray wolves and grizzlies. It will be part of a working forest that allows logging and maintains access to hunting, fishing, firewood cutting, and berry picking, says Dahl.

She credits the Center's accomplishment to broad-based local support, a long-term commitment, and complicated partnerships with the potential to benefit all parties. Her advice to other community groups trying to acquire forestlands is simple: "Keep youR head down and keep working."
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Title Annotation:News from the world of Trees
Author:Little, Jane Braxton
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1U8MT
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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