America's Great Outdoors: Conservation through Collaboration

Goals in large-scale conservation within the Crown fall within three broad categories:

  • Infrastructure Improvements that provide for access and human uses within ecosystems and protect natural resources.
  • Land Acquisitions and Conservation Easements which consolidate ownership and protect ecologically valuable or sensitive areas.
  • Local and Large-scale Collaboration efforts to restore and protect healthy ecosystems and provide for sustainable economies.

Infrastructure Improvements

These are activities that protect and improve watersheds, for example, aquatic organism habitat and hydrologic function. Actions often include activities that maintain, improve or remove roads, bridges and other facilities. Notable examples include the following:

1. Capital Improvement and Maintenance program expenditures on roads, trails and facilities for Forest Service lands in the Crown totaled about $40 million from 2008 through 2011.

2. Approximately $6 million of Legacy Roads and Trails funds were spent to protect watersheds by maintaining, improving or obliterating roads and trails.

3. In the last decade Western Federal Lands Highway Division has implemented over 20 projects involving Forest Highways and Park Roads. These roads have been improved in a number of ways to facilitate access to National Forest and National Parks lands, including a 56-mile stretch of Highway 93 which has 41 structures that facilitate wildlife movement across the landscape. Highway 93 runs the length of the Crown and is an important corridor for wildlife. Most projects typically involve expenditures from three to fifteen million dollars.

Land Acquisitions and Conservation

Land acquisition is an important part of habitat conservation planning. Investments are made to purchase lands that go into public ownership as well as procuring conservation easement that protect ecologic, cultural, and recreation opportunities. These funds are significantly leveraged by contributions from partners as well as individuals who donate land or voluntarily restrict development of their lands. Notable acquisitions include:

As part of the Blackfoot Challenge, the US Forest Service partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to acquire 23,327 acres of former Plum Creek Timberlands from the headwaters of the Blackfoot River to the Clearwater drainage. The Bureau of Land Management has been pursuing LWCF acquisitions and since FY1999 has acquired approximately 11,266 acres within the area described as the Blackfoot Watershed/Blackfoot River Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA). 

The U.S. Forest Service has been working for over a decade in the Swan Valley with the Trust for Public Land (TPL) acquiring lakes and wildlife habitat. In addition, the 2008 Farm Bill provided $250 million to TNC and TPL which led to the donation of 111,540 acres of former Plum Creek timber land to the Forest Service through the Montana Legacy Project. Within the Crown, the National Forest System has been enhanced with 144,000 acres of checkerboard in-holdings valued at $324 million through the assistance of TNC and TPL.

The Bureau of Land Management acquired three conservation easements to protect an additional 17,501 acres of private land within a portion of the Crown with FY11 LWCF funding ($5.2 Million). These three areas are within the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area where significant landowner interest exists for protecting large blocks of important species habitat with conservation easements. The Fish and Wildlife Service recently submitted a proposal as part of the Department’s Collaborative Conservation Initiative that identifies an additional 30,685 acres of conservation easements that could be protected in the next 18 months if funding was available (projected cost is $19,742,350).

Forest Legacy LWCF acquisitions through USFS State and Private Forestry have secured 40,826 acres of land within the Crown to achieve conservation objectives. Total cost was $51,827,195 of which $30,612,000 were federal funds.

Representatives of the USFS, USFWS, NPS, and BLM met in May 2011 to develop a FY 2013-2014 LWCF nomination package for the Crown of the Continent Collaborative Funding Project. Lands are identified for conserving and protecting forests, rivers and waters, maintaining open spaces and traditional land uses. The FS is requesting $54 million for the Montana Legacy Completion.

Local and Large Scale Collaboration

Federal agencies operating within the Crown participate in a wide variety of local and large scale collaborative efforts aimed at restoring, conserving and protecting healthy ecosystems and providing for sustainable economies for resource dependent communities. Many organizations and individuals belong to multiple collaborative groups at all scales. Specific examples include the following.

1. Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent: The Center for Natural Resources and Environment Policy (CNREP) at The University of Montana and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy initiated the effort in 2007. The objective of the Roundtable is to establish a multi-stakeholder forum to exchange ideas, build relationships, identify shared values and interests, and facilitate working relationships. In addition to organizing periodic forums and workshops, CNREP and LILP intend to hold annual conferences with policy leaders representing the major jurisdictions within the Crown to create a national pilot project on how to implement large landscape conservation. The roundtable has a focus on engaging community-level interests and other non-traditional partners in discussion and development of a vision for the Crown including tribal/First Nations or other under-represented communities with a natural resource interest. 

2. Crown of the Continent Conservation Initiative: This coalition of 15 non-government conservation organizations in the U.S. and Canada promotes a single vision for the Crown of the Continent ecosystem as part of their collective efforts to advance the Crown as a regional and potentially national conservation priority. Over the past year, the CCCI developed a comprehensive Conservation Agenda and Conservation Plan to achieve long term conservation goals and vision for the Crown in a time of climate change, as well as comprehensive and collaborative conservation strategies in four key areas: climate science, policy framework, communication/outreach, and capacity building. Climate change is the overarching theme of the CCCI.

3. Crown Managers Partnership: The Crown Managers Partnership (CMP) was created in 2001 as an inter-agency forum for about 20 land management agencies in Montana, British Columbia, and Alberta. This voluntary partnership seeks to demonstrate leadership in addressing the environmental management challenges in the Crown by adopting transboundary collaborative approaches to environmental management. The CMP seeks to improve the management of this large complex ecoregion containing multiple jurisdictions by management agencies working together, and serves as an information, science and data coordination forum for land management agencies with direct responsibilities for land stewardship in the Crown ecosystem. 

4. Flathead Basin Commission: This is a Montana Flathead basin-based collaborative body of 23 federal, state and citizen representatives. British Columbia has one seat as a liaison member. Created in 1983, the purpose of the commission is to monitor and protect the aquatic resources of Flathead Lake and its tributaries. Although not a formal decision making body, the commission supports US led efforts to maintain and improve the Flathead Basin aquatic ecosystem and at times, makes informed recommendations to government bodies concerning protection and management of these resources. In recent years, the Commission has played an important role in developing agreements between the U.S. and Canada to protect the ecological health of the region, including critical wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. Specific water quality protection and monitoring activities include:

  • Ensure water quality, economic, land use and natural resource data is gathered, analyzed, interpreted and disseminated to the public and responsible agencies.
  • Facilitate policies and actions that have a positive result on water quality and natural resources.
  • Provide leadership, including recommendations to governments, in making the case for Basin water quality and protection of its natural resources.

5. Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC): IGBC consists of representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, Tribal Nations, and representatives of the state wildlife agencies of Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming, and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Their mission is to restore and conserve the grizzly bear, whose habitat includes Crown of the Continent land. IGBC agency expenditures within the Crown exceed two million dollars.

6. Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GNLCC): The GNLCC is a meso-regionally scaled partnership of Federal, State, Tribal, Canadian and non-government conservation organizations working together to develop a collective landscape vision, shared goals and measurable objectives for specific resource priorities. The Great Northern area includes the interior Columbia Basin, the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming northward into British Columbia and Alberta, and the sage-steppe arid lands of the interior Columbia Basin and Rocky Mountain regions. LCCs are a national network of large landscape partnerships following an outcome based adaptive management framework for large landscape conservation. The purpose is to add value and fill in gaps in governance and capacity for making progress towards inter-jurisdictional, transboundary conservation efforts, particularly as they pertain to the over-arching priorities of the GNLCC partners. Leveraged coordination and capacity and a shared information/data base to support landscape conservation efforts within the Great Northern area have been a focus of the GNLCC.

7. Kresge Foundation Grant: The Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy (CNREP), Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC), and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (LILP) organized the Roundtable to facilitate the design and implementation of an adaptive management system and associated projects and activities. They have recently received a large umbrella grant to facilitate the collaboration and fund those projects and activities.

8. Montana Forest Restoration Committee (MFRC): This is primarily a volunteer, consensus-based collaborative group, formed in January 2007 to help guide restoration of Montana’s National Forests. Work is supported by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Forestry Division in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. The MFRC articulated a collective vision of ecologically-appropriate, scientifically-supported forest restoration through a set of 13 principles that represent the “zone of agreement” where controversy, delays, appeals, and litigation are significantly reduced.

9. Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project (CFLRP): This collaboration large landscape covers portions of the three National Forests located in the Crown. Multiple partners work to focus restoration activities on this landscape and to provide for sustainable jobs and economies. Projects are funded with non-federal funds and in-kind matches to federal efforts. Work is focused conserving and restoring healthy ecosystems. In 2010 approximately $3.9 million was invested on National Forests in fuel reduction and restoration implementation and monitoring through the SWCC program. The 2011 SWCC program is investing approximately $7.2 million . We estimate that in 2010 and 2011, the SWCC has leveraged an additional $400,000 annually in fuel reduction and restoration investments on private land.

10. The Blackfoot Challenge: The Blackfoot Challenge is a landowner-based group that coordinates management of the Blackfoot River, its tributaries, and adjacent lands. It is organized locally and known nationally as a model for preserving the rural character and natural beauty of a watershed. The mission of the Blackfoot Challenge is to coordinate efforts that will enhance, conserve and protect the natural resources and rural lifestyles of the Blackfoot River Valley for present and future generations. It supports environmentally responsible resource stewardship through cooperation of private and public interests. Private landowners, federal and state land managers, local government officials, and corporate landowners compose the informal membership. All share a common vision of how the Challenge operates in the Blackfoot watershed and believe success can be achieved by building trust, partnerships, and working together.

11. Jocko River Native Trout Restoration, Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana. Jocko River watershed has been substantially disturbed by agriculture, irrigation, livestock grazing, transportation infrastructure, and residential and commercial development. The river restoration effort, started in 2008, targeted the lower 22 miles of the river, and is being led by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The goal of the restoration is to re-establish the natural river processes that existed before the watershed was disturbed and to re-establish natural linkages between the terrestrial, riparian, and aquatic parts of the ecosystem. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have achieved half of their restoration goal and thus restored important habitat for bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. The tribes have coupled the effort with an outreach effort to educate public and youth on the importance of river ecology for not only imperiled fishes but all species that utilize the system including human resource users. The outreach effort has included the production of interactive educational DVD for middle and high school students highlighting the ecology of the river, the importance of the aquatic communities and the interaction of the river ecology with native culture and traditions. The Fish and Wildlife Service has recently become involved as a source of funding for additional river mile restoration along the boundary of the National Bison Range via the National Fish Habitat Action Plan and specifically the Western Native Trout Initiative partnership.

12. The Multi Agency Integrated Strategy group (MA-IRS). Federal and State agencies work together to develop processes and frameworks for working collaboratively on forest resource management activities. There is cooperative utilization of each Agency’s GIS based prioritization models for identifying and implementing work in critical watersheds.

13. The USFS Northern Region, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service are developing a 2013-2014 Land and Water Conservation Fund nomination package for the Crown of the Continent Collaborative Funding Project.