New conservation area would sustain voluntary agreements with willing landowners utilizing LWCF dollars
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to create a new conservation area in southwest Montana. As proposed, the Missouri Headwaters Conservation Area would advance a vision for the future of working agricultural lands in this region by allowing the use of Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to conserve working lands through voluntary agreements with landowners in portions of Beaverhead, Madison, Deer Lodge, Jefferson, and Silver Bow Counties.
“The proposed support from the Fish and Wildlife Service for private lands conservation means ranching will remain a strong pillar in this valley,” said Jeff Johnson, a rancher from Dell. “Ranching is tough work, and the development pressures on farms and ranches make it that much tougher. These financial resources are what we need to make sure working lands remain productive.”
The proposal would not allow fee title acquisition and—as proposed—would limit the scale of voluntary conservation easements within the project area to 250,000 acres. Given increasing development pressure on Montana farms and ranches, the conservation area would offer private landowners additional financial options to maintain their agricultural operations, while conserving valuable wildlife habitat.
“Southwest Montana provides some of the finest wildlife habitat and hunting country found anywhere,” said Chris Marchion with Anaconda Sportsman’s Club. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal for southwest Montana will make funding available to keep agricultural lands in production, while maintaining the wildlife habitat that supports our hunting traditions.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has an extensive history of working with landowners to create private land conservation areas in Montana, and similar project areas have long existed on the Rocky Mountain Front and in the Blackfoot River Valley.
“Voluntary private lands conservation has been a success story for wildlife and working lands across Montana for decades,” said Joel Webster, VP of western conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We are excited about this proposal to support Montana farms, ranches, and wildlife habitat, and we encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to listen to local landowners as they refine the proposal.”
A public comment period is expected to commence on Sept. 20 and run through Oct. 26.
Learn more about TRCP’s conservation work in southwest Montana here.
Photo Credit: James Wicks