HELENA - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding three meetings this month to discuss a proposal to expand its conservation easement program on the Rocky Mountain Front and in the Blackfoot Valley.
The agency also wants to establish a new, similar program in the Swan Valley where the federal government would purchase perpetual conservation easements on private land from willing sellers.
The agency is planning a May 17 meeting in Choteau at the Stage Stop Inn, a May 18 meeting in Condon at the Swan Valley Community Center, and a May 19 meeting in Ovando at the Ovando School.
Information from the meetings will be used to put together environmental assessments for the three areas.
The easements would be in Lewis and Clark, Teton, Pondera, Missoula and Powell counties. The agency's goal is to protect fish and wildlife habitat while maintaining working ranches with the easements.
"The Service and private landowners continue to find common ground in Montana," said Gary Sullivan, Fish and Wildlife's Montana realty supervisor. "Together, we have recognized protecting important fish and wildlife habitat and maintaining working ranches go hand in hand. Conservation easements are an effective, proven approach to accomplishing both of these objectives."
The conservation easement program in the Blackfoot Valley began in 1994, while the one along the Front started in 2005.
Fish and Wildlife hopes to get a similar program operating this year in the Swan Valley.
In the programs, property titles aren't exchanged. Instead, the landowner receives tax incentives to limit development, preserving habitat for fish and wildlife.