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Public comment sought on Falls Creek Open Land proposal until February 8

Posted: 6:48 PM, Jan 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-08 20:48:33-05

HELENA – Lewis and Clark County is seeking public comment on a proposal to provide $1,000,000 through the Open Lands bond to assist Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in buying private property along the Rocky Mountain Front.

The purchase would provide new public access to 442 acres and improve access to approximately 26,000 acres of adjacent United States Forest Service land.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation proposed the Falls Creek Acquisition in May 2018. Daniel Barrett currently owns the 442 acres located 30 miles from Augusta in Lewis and Clark County.

If acquired, the land will be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. This would ensure public access and permanent conservation.

The Falls Creek Acquisition has the ability to conserve strategic habitat for a variety of game and non-game species and conserve approximately two miles of in-stream habitat in the Upper Dearborn River, Falls Creek and unnamed intermittent streams.

It would also protect approximately 44 acres of buffer habitat adjacent to these stretches, and secure access to one mile of Falls Creek Trail No. 229.

RMEF has raised approximately $870,000 from other sources such as, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, U.S. Forest Service, Mule Deer Foundation, and the Safari Club International- Great Falls Chapter. All money will go towards the $2.46 million purchase price.

“This is the type of project these funds were intended for,” said Connie Cole, Chairwoman of the Citizen Advisory Committee on Open Lands. “Opportunities like this are rare, and it would create access to such a large amount of public land, as well as the Falls Creek falls, which right now are only accessed via Alice Creek. We are really excited about this project.”

The Open Lands Program is funded by a voter-approved $10 million general obligation bond used to protect rivers, streams and groundwater; conserve working farm, ranch and forestlands; protect wildlife areas and preserve open lands and natural areas for recreation and growth management.

To date, 12 projects have been approved and funded through this program and about $5 million remain. The Board of County Commissioners has final approval.

The CAC reviews proposals from project sponsors through an application process to determine if a project meets the requirements of the Open Lands Program Guide.

The CAC can then recommend approval or denial of the project to the Board of County Commissioners based on the criteria presented in the Open Lands Program Guide and bond language.

The CAC voted in November 2018 to recommend approval of the Falls Creek Acquisition. Tuesday it was presented to the BoCC with a funding request of $1 million.

The BoCC voted to open a 30-day public comment period and review the submitted documentation from RMEF. There will be a public hearing at the end of the comment period and a determination may be made.

“These projects are vetted through a very thorough process,” said Peter Italiano, Community Development & Planning Department Director for Lewis and Clark County. “They are not done in a vacuum, there is a rigorous application process, and only projects that meet the intention of the Open Lands program are moved forward with a positive recommendation. We really encourage the public to provide comments as part of this process.”

County Staff have received multiple letters from organizations in support of this project, including Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, U.S. Forest Service, Upper Sun River Wildlife Team, Montana Wildlife Federation and others.

Comments will be accepted until February 8, 2019, and should be sent to:

Lewis and Clark County Community Development & Planning Department
316 N. Park Ave., Helena, MT 59602, or emailed to Sam Neill, County Planner at sneill@lccountymt.gov.

Find additional information on the Falls Creek Acquisition Project and the Open Lands Program at https://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/openlands.html