Five Valleys Land Trust proudly announces the completion of a 5,800-acre conservation easement in the northern Sapphire Mountains, thanks to a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and MPG Ranch. The conservation easement protects a key portion of a threatened wildlife corridor that connects iconic North American ecosystems.
Missoula is the geographic hub of the Five Valleys region, and for wildlife these five valleys are a nexus of one of the most significant landscapes in all of North America. Just as our great clean rivers flow through these valleys, so do some of our world's most precious and threatened wildlife. The presence of one of Montana’s largest urban centers in the middle of so much important wildlife habitat has always demanded that Five Valleys Land Trust places a special focus on our work in Missoula, no matter how large our service area grows. We do this by working with our many partners and by using diverse conservation methods to balance our protection of river corridors, wildlife habitat, family farms and ranches, and open lands for recreation. Our work in the northern Sapphire Mountains is a great example.
The northern Sapphire Mountains span from Rock Creek to the Bitterroot River, south of the Clark Fork River. Here, haphazard suburban development patterns threaten a critical wildlife corridor between the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Bitterroot-Selway Ecosystem. The long-term health of our region's populations of elk, grizzly bears, wolverines, and many other species, depends on the freedom to move and mix between these ecosystems. And the habitat found on the northern Sapphire Mountain conservation easement is designated by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as a Tier 1 priority for terrestrial habitat conservation.
We have focused conservation efforts throughout this corridor since the 1970s, including facilitation of public land acquisitions, wilderness designations (Welcome Creek), conservation easements, and Five Valleys’ land acquisitions (Rock Creek Confluence Project). No place is this corridor more at risk than in the northern Bitterroot Valley, where a few key private properties will determine if this corridor remains intact.
No public funds were used to complete this project, which will protect this portion of the wildlife corridor from future residential or commercial subdivision. The Montana Chapter of The Nature Conservancy donated a conservation easement on the land, which was acquired in 2008 as part of the Montana Legacy Project. The land was sold to MPG Ranch, which will be responsible for restoration and management of the land. Five Valleys' management of the conservation easement will ensure that conservation goals for the parcel are achieved in perpetuity.
MPG Ranch will manage this land as it has managed its current properties, to benefit wildlife habitat, restore degraded lands, provide opportunities for biological research, and provide opportunities for public education. MPG ranch plans to provide non-motorized open access to the northern Sapphires property from June 1 through August 31, and allow hunting access by written permission in the fall.
Just north of MPG Ranch is our Mount Dean Stone conservation initiative, which seeks to balance wildlife habitat conservation, working family ranches, and expanded public trail access for the Missoula community.
Header photo: Looking south from the Northern Sapphire Mountains into the northern Bitterroot Valley, Bitterroot Mountains in the distance. Photo by Grant Kier.