Collaboration for Wildlife Safety
The Blackfoot Watershed is located in Western Montana. It is the home of the Blackfoot River, and a great place for fly-fishing, rafting, and canoeing. It supports many wildlife species, including the westslope cutthroat trout.
Forests and valleys and bears, oh my! The Blackfoot River Valley has many important natural resources that need to be protected. A landowner-based collaborative group called the Blackfoot Challenge came together to conserve the land in the valley. With over 160 partner groups and eight committees (executive, conservation strategies, education, forestry, water resources, weeds, wildlife, and outreach), the Blackfoot Challenge works to conserve and improve the rural character and way of life in the valley.
One of the most significant projects began in 2003 when The Nature Conservancy purchased nearly 90,000 acres of Plum Creek Timber Company land. This land was in turn sold to federal and state agencies and private landowners. The community also elected to have the Blackfoot Challenge purchase 5,600 acres to form the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area, a community-managed forest that serves as a model for cooperative ecosystem management. While TNC is still in the process of selling these lands, all will be sold with perpetual conservation easements. This means that the lands will never be developed.
The wildlife committee also aims to reduce human-wildlife conflicts by using preventative and proactive approaches. Accomplishments include a 96% reduction in wildlife conflicts, installation of over 50,000 feet of electric livestock fencing, implementation of a successful carcass removal program to keep predators away, and enrollment of over 100 residents in a “bear watch” neighborhood network.
In the future, the Blackfoot Challenge collaborative will continue to work closely with the Forest Service. The Blackfoot Challenge is undertaking the creation and promotion of a proposal for place-based management on the Lolo National Forest. This proposal will call for $750,000 per year for ten years to fund restoration and multi-party monitoring work to ensure the ecological health of the land and the livelihood of those who live there.
The Trust for Public Land
The Nature Conservancy, Blackfoot Valley
Sara Schmidt (sara “at” blackfootchallenge.org)