Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission approves Haskill easement in Whitefish

Easement is part of the South Whitefish Range Conservation Project

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Dec. 10 unanimously approved a conservation easement for Haskill Basin that protects 3,020 acres of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. property north of Whitefish.

The conservation easement is part of the South Whitefish Range Conservation Project, which also includes 7,150 acres of land along Trumbull Creek just northwest of Columbia Falls. The commission will consider the Trumbull Creek easement separately.

The State Land Board still must approve both easements, which will allow Stoltze to continue to manage and harvest trees from the forests, while maintaining public access and prohibiting residential development. FWP will hold both easements, and the city of Whitefish will jointly hold the Haskill Basin easement.
Mayor John Muhlfeld told the commission that the easement is critical to protecting the city’s drinking water supply. About 75 percent of the city’s water comes from creeks in Haskill Basin.

The Haskill Basin easement relies on a $7 million grant from the federal Forest Legacy Program, $2 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Habitat Conservation Plan land acquisition program and $7.7 million from the city of Whitefish. In addition, Stoltze has agreed to sell the easement at 75 percent of market value, a donation of $3.9 million. The total cost is $16.7 million.

The Trumbull Creek easement is a $9.5 million deal, with $6.5 million from the Forest Legacy program, $2 million from the Habitat Conservation Plan program and $1 million from private donations.