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John Tracy Manley of the Manley Family Limited Partnership and The Nature Conservancy's Chris Bryant look over a property map of the area in June while discussing land purchases from TNP.

JAMES RIGGS/Missoulian

Glacier National Park encloses 1 million acres. So does the state of Rhode Island. Last year, The Nature Conservancy crossed its own million-acre mark of protected land in Montana.

“It’s been kind of building over the year, and these last deals put us over the top,” TNC spokeswoman Bebe Crouse said Thursday. “It was such a nice milestone to reach.”

The latest transactions included conservation easements on 515 acres in the Big Hole Valley and another 14,571 acres near Glacier National Park. The past year also saw the final transfer of 11,600 acres to the U.S. Forest Service in the Lolo and Flathead national forests. They include territory in Petty Creek west of Missoula, Marshall Mountain on the city’s northeast edge and in the Swan Valley.

That transfer was one of the last steps in the Montana Legacy Project, which started in 2008 when TNC helped broker the sale of 310,586 acres of Plum Creek Timber Co. property. The bulk of the land has gone into public ownership, with some parcels sold with conservation easements to private buyers.

“That was a huge boost for us to get that much land in one deal and boost ownership,” Crouse said. “There are a lot of different ways to boost conservation.”

Petty Creek rancher Doug McCoy said the transaction kept open more than 10,000 acres popular with hikers and hunters.

“It is extremely gratifying to know that this beautiful valley and the surrounding mountains will be protected from development and accessible to the public for both present and future generations,” McCoy said in an email.

As of January, TNC has protected 1,004,308 acres in Montana. The total covers more than 20 years of activity.

“This kind of conservation success doesn’t happen overnight or in isolation.” said TNC state director Richard Jeo. “This achievement was built on years of forging trust and goodwill in the community and with the support of an army of dedicated, hard-working partners, who have our deepest gratitude. It’s also a pretty exciting way to end the year.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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