Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Plan OK’d to buy aluminum company land

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | August 20, 2020 9:38 AM

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission in an unanimous vote last Thursday endorsed a plan for the Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area along the Flathead River just outside Columbia Falls.

FWP and the Flathead Land Trust are working together to purchase the property from the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. The company has agreed to give the state and land trust two years to complete the deal or it will sell the prime wildlife habitat to a private party.

The project borders 1.6 miles of the Flathead River and contains 700 acres of healthy riparian forest, 80 acres of wetlands, and a mile of a warm spring creek.

CFAC has owned the land for decades and it’s become a de facto wildlife preserve.

It’s home to bears, deer, elk, otter, mink and numerous different bird species including nesting bald eagles and osprey.

It also hosts old-growth stands of cottonwood forests and as well as wetlands and spring-fed streams.

The land is located just to the west of the U.S. 2 bridge and runs north to the House of Mystery. It’s considered a key wildlife corridor.

The Gateway to Glacier Trail Group has been working on a bike path along the river through a license with CFAC.

All told, the preliminary cost of the project is about $7 million, with about $500,000 match through non-federal funding, said Laura Katzman of the Flathead Land Trust.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to work with Flathead Land Trust and FWP and their goal to purchase a portion of the CFAC property. From the many conversations we have had with members of the Trust, we know the property on the south side of the Flathead River is very important to the group and its commitment to the area. This project is a benefit to Columbia Falls, its residents and Flathead County,” said Cheryl Driscoll of Glencore, parent company of CFAC.

The project would also add to a 12,000-acre network of conserved land along 50 miles of the Flathead River and Flathead Lake downstream of Columbia Falls.

“I am beyond excited to see this amazing piece of the valley preserved for the enjoyment and use by the Columbia Falls community and all Flathead Valley residents,” Darin Fisher, Columbia Falls City Councilman said. “I couldn’t be more thankful to the Flathead Land Trust, FWP, and the countless folks who have been working behind the scenes for years to preserve and expand public access on this unique property.”

“This project creates a unique opportunity to protect wildlife habitat and public access on the doorstep of the Gateway to Glacier and along the Flathead River,” said FWP Regional Supervisor Jim Williams. “We appreciate our partners, CFAC and the Flathead Land Trust, for working towards a common goal of land stewardship that will benefit everyone into the future.”

The project has also been endorsed by Montana Sen. Jon Tester.

“I am pushing for completion of the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project, which would help foster outdoor recreation in the Columbia Falls community while protecting access for future generations.

“This project highlights the importance of my Great American Outdoors Act — signed into law last week by the President — which fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, giving projects like this critical support moving forward,” Tester said.

Grants have been obtained from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, FWP Habitat Montana Program, and Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust for the project. Project partners hope to obtain much of the remaining funding needed to complete the project by Dec. 2021.

Flathead Land Trust is asking for support from the public.

For more information on how to help with the project visit www.flatheadlandtrust.org or call Katzman at Flathead Land Trust at 752-8293 or Kris Tempel at FWP at 751-4573.

“We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to permanently protect this incredible piece of land at the mouth of Bad Rock Canyon and secure public access near the growing community of Columbia Falls.

“Flathead Land Trust is excited to be partnering with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. on the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project as we hope to purchase and conserve it as a proposed wildlife management area,” Paul Travis, executive director of the Land Trust said.