Ninemile: Missoula County urges more information on road permit for private inholding

Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to send a letter to the Ninemile Ranger District urging it to request more information before granting a real estate company approval to build a road across Forest Service land to a private inholding.

Tungsten Holdings, located in Libby, is looking to reconstruct roughly 1 mile of decommissioned road to access the property east of Petty Creek, and has requested a special use permit from the Lolo National Forest to do so.

But the owners haven’t detailed their plans for the property, which has commissioners concerned. The real estate firm didn’t return calls Tuesday seeking comment on its plans for the parcel.

“I’m very interested in hearing their response about what land use activities they’re contemplating, given that it’s a virtually bare parcel of land with grass and shrubs,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

Tungsten Holdings is requesting access “to conduct land management activities” on the property, though it hasn’t detailed what those activities might entail, commissioners said.

The county remains opposed to granting special permits to access private inholdings that could later be used for residential purposes, especially in locations prone to fire. As a result, it’s urging the Ninemile Ranger District to deny the permit if the owner intends it for residential development.

“Providing services like law enforcement and fire protection for residential use to parcels like these can be very problematic and is something that should be avoided,” said Kylie Paul, the county’s natural resource specialist. “We would like further clarity on what their land use activities might entail.”

In its letter, the county also expressed concern over the location of the road itself. Paul said it sits within a priority watershed for bull trout, which is listed as an endangered species.

The area also provides prime winter habitat for large mammals.

“We have mentioned that the parcel is in important winter range habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer,” said Paul. “Allowing year-round motorized use of a relatively inaccessible road will result in disturbance to wildlife and impacts to important fisheries.”

If access were granted, Paul said, it would require the owners to fix a decommissioned road.

“It’s been ripped, so they’d have to recreate it,” she said. “I called the Forest Service and they said they wanted answers, too. Our letter will further provide that push for more information.”