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Montana project ranked No. 1 priority in federal budget

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The protection of land and water in western Montana’s Haskill Basin is the nation’s top-ranked working forest conservation project for the U.S. Forest Service, The Trust for Public Land announced on March 10.

Last summer, TPL and F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co., Montana’s oldest family-owned lumber company, announced a plan to conserve more than 3,000 acres of Stoltze-owned land. The property straddles the Haskill Basin drainage and provides about 75 percent of Whitefish’s drinking water supply. It will be permanently protected for water, wildlife and recreation, as well as continued sustainable forest management.

“Not only will conservation of Haskill Basin ensure continued timber jobs in the area, it protects outstanding wildlife habitat, a popular trail system, and most importantly, Whitefish’s drinking water supply,” said Deb Love, Northern Rockies Director of The Trust for Public Land.

More funding is needed to permanently protect this land, she added, explaining that TPL will work with the local community to raise additional money from private donors and various public funding sources to make possible the protection of this beloved resource.

The USFS ranked the Stolze project the highest priority for the 2015 fiscal year – beginning Oct. 1 – and will use it for its Forest Legacy Program, which makes grants to states to purchase permanent conservation easements and other property interests that protect Forest resources.

The agency would provide $7 million of the estimated $17 million total cost. President Obama sent the government-wide budget to Capitol Hill in the first week of March, and Congress is now considering it.

The request was part of the broader budget for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the fed’s premier program for protecting land around the nation. Obama proposed to fully fund LWCF at $900 million.

All three of Montana’s congressmen support the deal.

“Making smart, responsible decisions about forest management and recreation will strengthen our economy and make sure our kids and grandkids can enjoy our treasured lands,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat and a senior member of the Appropriations subcommittee that will consider this part of the budget.

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said the project is important to Stoltze Land and Lumber and surrounding communities to help sustain logging and recreational use of the Haskill Basin. “I was happy to lend my support for this project and am pleased that it continues to be recognized as a priority for northwestern Montana,” Daines said.

Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat who is newly appointed to national office, said it promotes important Montana values.

“Montanans deeply understand the unbreakable connection between land, water, resource-related employment, and life in our communities,” Walsh said. “I appreciate the willingness of Stoltze Lumber to conserve this special property and to maintain important jobs in the woods, and the Forest Service has appropriately recognized the unique significance of this property.”

Stoltze was founded in 1912, although it began as the State Lumber Co. in 1891.

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, in an effort to ensure healthy, livable communities. Nearly 10 million people live within a 10-minute walk of a TPL park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.

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