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Montana milestone for Nature Conservancy

OUTSTANDING – The 515 acres a ranching couple signed into a conservation easement on the Upper Big Hole River at the end of 2013 put the amount of land The Nature Conservancy has helped conserve in Montana to more than 1 million acres.

That’s about one acre for every resident in the state.

“That’s a very large amount of land we have helped protect and conserve, and many of those lands are what I call working lands,” said Dave Carr, a 24-year Nature Conservancy employee in Helena. “They’re still being used. They just won’t be subdivided.”

The largest conservation organization in the world, TNC, opened its doors in Big Sky country in 1978 and secured land in the Blackfoot River Valley, one of the state’s first private conservation easements.

Today, the organization has had a hand in protecting 1,004,308 acres of land statewide, from ranches in the Rocky Mountain foothills of north-central Montana in grizzly bear habitat, to unbroken native prairie on the northeastern plains, to forested land in the river valleys of western Montana.

Lands TNC works to protect often are privately owned ranches that feature native habitat and wildlife, but the aim isn’t to end agricultural uses.

“We very much like to see lands stay in some productive use,” Carr said. “We feel that for long-term conservation, if the community is not part of that decision or doesn’t buy into that, it won’t be lasting.”

Conservation easements are tailored to the needs of the landowner, but generally they restrict development rights and preclude subdivisions, drainage of wetlands, plowing of native prairie and commercial gravel pits.

Sometimes The Nature Conservancy purchases the easements from landowners, other times they are donated.

In 2008, TNC purchased 310,586 acres of commercial timberland from Plum Creek timber company and has been selling the land to public and private owners. Most recently, the U.S. Forest Service purchased 11,600 acres of that land in the Lolo and Flathead national forests.

The Plum Creek deal is TNC’s largest to date in Montana.

In Idaho, TNC expects the year to reach a total of 500,000 acres since the organization started at Silver Creek Preserve in 1976.

In Washington, TNC has worked to preserve roughly 500,000 acres over 54 years, as well as lobbying and partnership work to protect prized lands such as Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, Turnbull Wildlife Refuge and Hanford Reach of the Columbia.

Dogs leave mark on Mount Spokane

OUTSCAT – The trend toward more dogs, linked to the growing popularity of snowshoeing, is getting easier to track at Mount Spokane State Park.

And sometimes you might track it into your car.

Snowshoer Warren D. Walker posted several photos of fresh dog poop he observed while hiking the mountain during just one day recently, noting that there are plenty of similar photo ops and the trend is dramatic and disgusting.  

Part of the problem is people who violate the state park leash law while others neglect to bring bags to clean up after their pets. 

“I understand your love of animals,” Walker said on the Mount Spokane snowshoeing Facebook page, “but it cannot be that hard to pick up after your dog. Having a dog inside the state park is a privilege, not a right.”


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