By Martin Kidston
Missoula County commissioners signed off on a new conservation easement in the Seeley-Swan Valley on Tuesday, calling the small parcel unique in both its location and size.
The Anderson-Miester Clearwater project alleviates development pressure on the 35-acre parcel, which lies in a key wildlife corridor between the Mission Mountains and Bob Marshall Wilderness.
“Because it’s small, it’s good to show how even small pieces fit into the big scheme of things,” said Commissioner Jean Curtiss. “Their motion cameras show all kinds of wildlife going through, including grizzly bears.”
Commissioners’ approval of the acquisition follows the June recommendation of the Conservation Lands Advisory Committee. The agreement permits the county to dispense $15,000 from the county’s open space fund to close the deal.
The money covers transaction costs; the easement was donated by Doug Anderson and Mary Miester.
“The easement prevents any further development on the property,” said Kali Becher, a rural landscape scientist with Missoula County. “It protects the wildlife habitat, as well as water quality and riparian values on the property.”
The acquisition is the latest in a string of efforts to conserve open space around the county using funding made available through the 2006 Open Space Bond. To date, roughly $7 million has been expended from the bond to conserve nearly 30,000 acres, including several large parcels around the Missoula Valley.
Commissioner Stacy Rye recalled efforts in the 1990s to secure the Missoula Valley’s cornerstones as open space, including Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel. While they were critical pieces to conserve, she said, the acquisition of smaller easements since 2006 have also brought value.
“Doing a diversity of open space pieces, not just the viewsheds but also the working cattle ranches, the riparian areas, corridors for wildlife and areas that had historical significance, all those things we’ve been able to do, particularly with the passage of the 2006 bond,” Rye said.
Vickie Edwards, a conservation project manager with Five Valleys Land Trust, said the location of the Anderson-Miester project makes it a marquise acquisition, despite its relatively small size. The Bob Marshal Wilderness lies four miles to the east while the Mission Mountains sit to the west.
Three miles south lies Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Marshall Creek Wildlife Management Area. The property is bounded on two sides by U.S. Forest Service land.
“When we look at this property, the connectivity to those other protected lands give it more value,” said Edwards. “The diversity on this property is exceptional. It provides significant wildlife habitat at both a local level and a broad landscape level.”
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