COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. - Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is recommending the acquisition of forest land along the Flathead River near Columbia Falls.
According to FWP, the acquisition of 772 acres of forestland in the area would be to protect public recreation access, fish and wildlife habitat and water quality.
The property is located off U.S. Highway 2 and would be protected as a Wildlife Management Area.
In August, FWP accepted public comment on the proposed project’s draft environmental assessment and they received 209 formal comments which they say were all in support of the project.
The recommendation will be forwarded to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission for a decision at an Oct. 28 meeting.
If approved, the project would go before the Montana Land Board for final review at its Nov. 15 meeting.
FWP says the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC), a subsidiary of Glencore, has decided to dispose of the undeveloped property, which is across the river from the former aluminum plant. The property is also winter range for elk, moose, and white-tailed deer.
“FWP’s purchase of the property would safeguard vital habitat and a travel corridor for wildlife species such as grizzly bears and bull trout,” FWP said in a release. “The property is located at a geographic pinch point where the Flathead River flows through the very narrow Bad Rock Canyon. The land is adjacent to a large block of public land and would add to a 12,000-acre network of conserved land along a 43-mile stretch reach of the Flathead River between Columbia Falls and Flathead Lake.”
In addition, the property is enrolled in FWP’s Block Management Program and provides a limited opportunity for hunters to harvest elk and white-tailed deer near Columbia Falls.
A trail was constructed on the property that CFAC allowed hikers, bikers, birdwatchers and others to access, and FWP says under its ownership, public access would be managed to preserve wildlife presence and hunting opportunities while allowing compatible trail and property use.
CFAC gave FWP until the end of 2021 to complete the acquisition, and if the project fails, the property would most likely be sold, subdivided and developed into a high-density neighborhood that would directly impact the conservation value of the site according to FWP.
The appraised value of the acquisition is $7.26 million.
Funding sources include $4 million from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund that collects revenues from offshore oil and gas; $2.5 million from FWP’s Habitat Montana program, which uses several big game license revenues that are earmarked for the protection of wildlife habitat, particularly "important habitat that is seriously threatened;” and $590,000 raised by the Flathead Land Trust in a local fundraising effort that collected private individuals, organizations, and foundations.
CFAC would donate the remainder of the value.