Wyss Foundation’s Support Helps Conserve 117,000 Acres in Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley

HELENA – January 22, 2015.  With the support of the Wyss Foundation and other charitable partners, The Nature Conservancy today announced it has closed on the purchase of 117,152 acres of forests, rivers and wildlife habitat in the Lower Blackfoot River watershed of Montana. The land was purchased from Plum Creek for $85 million.

This acquisition, known as the Clearwater-Blackfoot Project, builds on the historic achievement of the Montana Legacy Project which, in 2008, conserved and re-connected more than 310,000 acres within the Crown of the Continent, a magnificent, 10-million acre natural system that envelops Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  The lands formally acquired today represent the largest and most ecologically intact tracts of private land in the Crown of the Continent.

The Clearwater-Blackfoot lands are part of the Conservancy’s $134 million, two-state Great Western Checkerboards Project, which will preserve recreational access and ecological integrity across more than 257 square miles in Montana and the Cascade Mountains of Washington.  In the months and years ahead, the Conservancy will work with local communities and partners to develop locally-driven plans to place the lands into public and long-term private conservation ownership.

The Great Western Checkerboards Project is one of the first for the Conservancy’s NatureVest program, which fosters ways to advance investment in conservation. It is made possible through lead interim financing from the Wyss Foundation, additional financing from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and donations from many other supporters in Washington and Montana. Support for the Conservancy’s NatureVest team comes from the Robertson Foundation, the Jeremy & Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“This project marks another remarkable milestone in the work of Montana communities and leaders to conserve the Crown of the Continent for everyone to experience and explore,” said Hansjörg Wyss, whose foundation, the Wyss Foundation, helped enable a similar Conservancy-supported effort in 2010 that resulted in the conservation of key forestlands in Montana’s Crown of the Continent.   “We are proud to support the Great Western Checkerboards Project, The Nature Conservancy and local communities as they work to fulfill a long-term vision for keeping one of America’s most stunning landscapes intact and accessible to all.”

“This project helps protect critical habitat for bull trout, lynx, elk and mule deer in Montana’s spectacular 10 million acre Crown of the Continent,” said Richard Jeo, director of The Nature Conservancy of Montana. “Just as important, the area is emerging as a key part of Montana’s multi-million dollar recreation economy, important to Montanans for hunting, fishing and recreation and where visitors from around the world come to experience remarkable wild places.”

Addrien Marx, owner of Rovero’s Ace Hardware in Seeley Lake, calls the project a win-win for local businesses like hers, as well as her own family.

“For the first time in thirty plus years of choosing this place as my home, I am confident that my grandchildren will have a solid opportunity to see a grizzly or a mountain lion, hunt elk, or work in the local timber industry or with the local outfitter. I am so grateful that the Conservancy is already gathering input from residents on the future of this land.”

“We are deeply grateful to everyone who has supported this important project,” said Mark R. Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.  “Thanks to our supporters, we have an enormous opportunity to reconnect critical wildlife habitat and preserve recreational access for future generations. We look forward to working with local communities to secure the long-term future of these lands and waters.”

The Great Western Checkerboards Project seeks to conserve key western lands that are, as a result of history dating back to the transcontinental railroads, broken into a checkerboard pattern of public and private ownership. The fractured mix makes management of the land difficult and costly.

In Washington, the lands the Conservancy acquired from Plum Creek stretch for nearly 25 miles along either side of I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass, just a little over an hour’s drive from Seattle. The project connects federal and state wilderness areas and encompasses the headwaters of the Yakima River, one of the most important salmon and steelhead rivers in the state.

This project builds on years of work by many organizations, individuals and government agencies to consolidate the largest remaining checkerboards in Washington’s Cascades Range and the Crown of the Continent area of Montana.

LandWhitner Chase