In a conservation deal heralded as the biggest in Montana's history, the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands have arranged to buy 500 square miles of mountainous forest for about $510 million.
The agreement is one of the largest forest conservation deals in U.S. history, according to the land trusts, and it will protect wildlife species there that have existed virtually undisturbed since the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
"Few places on Earth are as untouched as the 'Crown of the Continent' a 10-million-acre expanse of mountains, valleys and prairies in Montana and Canada," the Nature Conservancy states. "The area has sustained all the same species including grizzlies, lynx, moose and bull trout for at least 200 years."
Now about 3% of that expanse will be protected, first as tracts that can be logged for 15 years by the former owner, Plum Creek Timber Co., under sustainable guidelines agreed to by the environmental groups, and then as state and federal recreational and wilderness areas.
The Plum Creek Timber Company is the largest private landowner in the United States. The sale of forestry lands has concerned forest preservation advocates because the land has often been subdivided, clear-cut and fragmented with development.
"This project is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to protect these lands for our families and future generations," said Sen. Max Baucus, who helped facilitate the agreement and described it as "the most significant land conservation project in the state's history, by far."
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