As pressure mounts on private logging companies to convert forest land for development, many people in northwestern Montana choose to keep

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If the growing melee of land and development interests sweeping across the Intermountain West were to attend an official gala, the area’s private forest expanses would surely stand out as the belle of the ball.

And yet, as America’s logged forest lands come under an unprecedented degree of pressure to convert their traditional bases to non-forest uses, including subdividing plots for trophy houses, many private logging companies in the Northwest from Montana and Idaho would rather remain a wallflower.

“There has been a huge demographic shift where people are flocking to the mountains and we are getting routine and unsolicited offers for our forests on a weekly if not daily basis,” said Barry Dexter, director of resources at Stimson Lumber Company, who has hundreds of thousands of wooded acres spanning northwestern Montana, northern Idaho, and northeastern Washington. “The pressures to sell this land are therefore immense and they are becoming more and more acute. But we are in the business of growing trees, and our private forests are the foundation of our business. We want to continue to produce wood and maintain our land for public access and open space. We don’t want to sell it so the developers can keep building McMansions. But right now, everyone wants a piece of it.

Nonetheless, as a public company, Stimson is responsible to its shareholders for making a profit, which is why Dexter says the company’s partnerships with land trust organizations have never been more critical, especially more than negotiating agreements to provide protections on its plots, allowing for the continued management of forests while protecting fish and wildlife species, averting the threat of forest fires and maintaining public access to forests. Hobbies.

“If you look at a map of western Montana and see this checkerboard property pattern, it’s mostly a sea of ​​federal land with islands of private forests,” Dexter said. “And with the unfolding of this landscape and its traditional uses, and as private lands are sold to different entities, we think it’s extremely important that we keep as much of this landscape intact and available to the public as possible.”

To that end, Dexter is closely following a “reconciliation bill” passing through the United States House of Representatives, where the House Agriculture Committee has included $ 40 billion of investments in forestry provisions, including a historic allocation of $ 1.25 billion over 10 years for the forest. Legacy Program (FLP), which has protected approximately 3 million acres of forest in the United States, including 268,000 acres in Montana. Established by Congress in 1990 and administered by the US Forest Service, the FLP helps states and private forest owners maintain functional landscapes through permanent conservation easements and acquisition of rights.

The reconciliation bill also allocates $ 100 million to the Community Forest and Open Space program, which helps communities invest in natural infrastructure by conserving forests that sequester carbon dioxide and protect drinking water supplies, thereby reducing the need for expensive filtration and treatment systems.

The program has helped place conservation easements on nearly 100,000 acres of Stimson’s forest land, ensuring public access, preventing unchecked development and ensuring it remains productive for future generations, Dexter said.

“The conservation of working forest lands contributes significantly to local and national economies, especially in rural areas,” Dexter said, noting that the National Alliance of Forest Owners reports that America’s forests support an estimated 2.5 million dollars. jobs, a payroll of 109 billion dollars and 288 billion dollars in sales.

Jim Williams, regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in northwestern Montana, said programs like FLP, as well as Habitat Montana and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, have helped keep not just an industry. viable timber in the Treasure State, but has preserved untold outdoor recreational access.

“There is no program in the history of fish and wildlife conservation in Montana that comes close to the Forest Legacy program in terms of the impact it has had on maintaining a functioning landscape, the maintaining public access to recreation and protecting the critical connectivity of fish and wildlife, ”Williams mentioned. “And we have been fortunate to work with volunteer forestry companies as well as extremely knowledgeable land trust organizations who are the foremost experts in these partnerships.”

The Trust for Public Land and Stimson Lumber Company, the landowner, have reached an agreement to permanently protect 28,000 acres near Troy and Lake Creek with an active forest conservation easement. Courtesy of the Public Lands Trust

As a Senior Project Manager at The Trust for Public Land (TPL), Chris Deming has helped negotiate numerous agreements between private companies like Stimson and the State of Montana, including conservation easements for “working forest. Pending approximately 200,000 acres of woodland from Glacier National. Park in the Desert of Cabinet Mountains, as well as the Selkirks and Idaho Panhandle.

In addition to making deals with Stimson, TPL has also worked with Southern Pine Plantations (SPP), a Georgia-based real estate investment company that purchased 630,000 acres in northwest Montana from Weyerhaeuser in early 2020, and Green Diamond Resource Company, which bought large tracts. from the SPP field.

Deming attributes much of the credit for recent conservation successes to private timber interests who have been willing to partner on conservation easements during what he calls “a climax” in the history of the land use and conservation.

“These companies are partially paid and they are partially giving the development rights to their woodlands so they can go ahead and say, ‘We don’t want to be distracted by these unsolicited offers from the developers.’ “Deming explained. “It’s critical. It is through these decisions that we are able to keep these forests active in the landscape, to keep development pressures at bay and to continue to provide access to the public.

Neil Ewald, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Green Diamond, who has worked with TPL to conserve tens of thousands of acres on its newly acquired plots, said conservation easements allow his business to maintain forests as a ‘generational asset’, providing a source of income while forests produce increasingly healthier wood that can be harvested decades from now.

“There is a saying that there are two sources of income from forestry: income today and value tomorrow,” Ewald said. “Well, we’re not desperate for income today. We don’t have big bills to pay. But we believe we can maximize the value for the future.


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