The Vital Ground Foundation has received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to protect 142 acres of forested land in the northwest corner of Montana near Troy.
The property, which contains one-third mile of shoreline and is the only private holding on Alvord Lake, was purchased by a developer in 2002 and public access was temporarily eliminated.
Development of the parcel would have threatened sensitive loon nesting sites, compromised important winter range for ungulates and probably would have permanently cut off a trail around the lake, which now will remain open to the public.
The Friends of Alvord Lake acquired the parcel in 2003, agreeing to hold it until collaborators could provide for its permanent protection. During the next 10 years, the Friends of Alvord Lake, Kootenai National Forest and members of the Troy community worked diligently to find a long-term solution.
Then, in 2013, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and the Libby Chapter of the Society of American Foresters contacted Vital Ground about the U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program. The program requires either a local or tribal governmental entity or a qualified land trust to secure funding to establish community forests that provide continuing and accessible community benefits.
If the project partners are successful in raising the remaining money necessary to complement the cornerstone funding from the Community Forest Program, all of Alvord Lake will remain available for public use.
Partners contributing to the Alvord Lake Community Forest Project include Friends of Alvord Lake, Kootenai National Forest, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Society of American Foresters (Libby Chapter), Yaak Valley Forest Council, Troy School District and Montana Loon Society.
“The land acquisition would maintain recreational opportunities such as fishing, hiking, and hunting.” said Kirsten Kaiser, district ranger for the Three Rivers Ranger District, which is headquartered in Troy.
Vital Ground will manage the land in partnership with a local stakeholder’s group.
The project will cost nearly $1.15 million and is being facilitated by a substantial donation from the Friends of Alvord Lake in the form of a bargain sale to Vital Ground. In addition to the $400,000 Forest Service grant, funding has also been committed by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Cinnabar Foundation.
The property provides habitat for many wildlife species, including grizzly bears, wolves, black bears, mountain lions, whitetail and mule deer, elk, moose, Merriam’s turkey and bobcats. Alvord Lake is an important nesting site for common loons.
“In addition to protecting a great piece of wildlife habitat, this project maintains the current values that the community most appreciates about the area,” says Tonya Chilton, area wildlife biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “The project will also expand outdoors education opportunities for students and will provide a collaborative arena for members of the stakeholder committee and other adults to engage in forest stewardship activities and practices.”
Vital Ground will seek an additional $350,000 to complete the sale by the end of 2015. Individuals, local governments, and other organizations are invited to contribute.
For more information, contact The Vital Ground Foundation, 20 Fort Missoula Rd., Missoula MT 59804; 406-549-8650. www.VitalGround.org.