Offshore drilling fees are financing the purchase of $41.6 million worth of new national forest lands in 15 states, including Montana.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday the 28 different purchases from North Carolina to Oregon will protect clean water and fish and wildlife habitat, absorb private inholdings within wilderness areas, and support outdoor recreation spending that contributes $14.5 billion annually to the economy.
The purchases from willing sellers represent about 20,000 acres, which were chosen from 68 applications.
The money comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, created in 1964. Congress taps mitigation fees paid by companies drilling for offshore oil and gas to finance the fund year to year. The fund is capped at $900 million a year. Other federal agencies also use it.
Projects are typically proposed by local organizations and evaluated by the U.S. Forest Service. Purchases often are arranged with help from organizations like the Trust for Public Lands and Nature conservancy.
There are two projects listed for Montana. A $2 million project in the Lolo and Flathead national forests will protect watersheds, wildlife habitat and public access to outdoor recreation in and around the Crown of the Continent. It is part of the Montana Legacy project, which includes a 111,740-acre land donation.
The $2 million Tenderfoot project in the Lewis and Clark National Forest will provide habitat for Westslope cutthroat trout, elk, moose, and deer in the Tenderfoot watershed of central Montana, as well as public access to hunting and fishing.
In California, Trust for Public Lands arranged the purchase of the Fleming Ranch for $1.5 million to add to the San Bernardino National Forest.
The 1,288 acres has been used as a retreat by the Fleming family since the early 1900s, and is surrounded by the national forest, said Brent Handley, who oversees acquisitions for the trust. The property abuts the Pacific Crest Trail and the San Jacinto Wilderness, and is covered with oak, pine and Douglas fir. The Forest Service said it planned to do thinning projects to reduce fire danger and promote carbon sequestration in the trees.
The fund is paying $1.4 million to complete the purchase of 1,481 acres previously marketed for vacation home sites along the Imnaha River in northeastern Oregon and add them to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
The transaction completes the sale to the Forest Service of 6,695 acres the Nature Conservancy bought in 2008 from the Gazelle Land and Timber Co., said conservancy spokesman Stephen Anderson. Since 2008, the land has been open to the public for fishing along the Imnaha River, and they accounted for 35 percent of the spring chinook caught in the river in 2009.
Here is a state-by-state list of land purchases for the national forest system with $41.6 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund announced.
- Cube Cove /Admiralty National Monument, Tongass National Forest: The purchase acquires private land surrounded by Admiralty National Monument/Kootznoowoo Wilderness and will allow protection and restoration of the coastal island ecosystem in perpetuity. $500,000
- Misty Fiords National Monument, Tongass National Forest: Reduces private inholdings and reduces development within an area known for its scenic waters. $500,000
- Hurdygurdy Creek, Six Rivers National Forest: The land covers portions of three streams on the Smith River National Recreation Area and will help restore and protect salmon habitat and improve public access to backcountry recreation areas. $1 million
- Deer & Mill Creek, Lassen National Forest: Extends protection of fish and wildlife habitat along 30 miles of Deer Creek, a dam-free stream that is one of the top salmon producers in the Sacramento Basin. $1.5 million
- Eldorado Meadows, Eldorado National Forest: Money will be used to leverage non-federal funds to consolidate a checkerboard pattern of land ownership in the Sierra Nevada. $1.5 million
- Stony Creek Consolidation;, Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Fills a doughnut hole of private land within the Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area on the shore of Lake Shasta that could be developed as a subdivision. $800,000
- Fleming Ranch, San Bernardino National Forest: Allows thinning projects to reduce fire danger and sequester carbon in the San Jacinto Mountains. $1.5 million
- Sierra Nevada Inholdings, Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests: Leverages a large land donation to purchase areas threatened development. Purchase will preserve an ancient petroglyph and conserve meadowns, wetlands and streamside areas at the headwaters of the American and Yoba rivers. $ 2 million
- Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, multiple national forests: Protects key sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada, as well as migration corridors for wolves, grizzly bears, elk, deer, coyote and moose. $1 million
- Little Echo Lake, Arapaho National Forest: Preserves a mountain lake and surrounding lands next to the James Peak Wilderness Area, as well as the water supply for Denver. Provides new public access to the wilderness and Continental Divide Trail. The area is home to Canada lynx, boreal toad and wolverine.
- Ophir Valley, Uncompahgre National Forest: Provides new public access to areas for hunting, fishing, rock climbing, camping, hiking, horseback riding and four-wheel driving. $1 million
- Georgia Mountains and Rivers, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest: Provides outdoor recreation access and protects clean water in areas near large population centers. $ 2 million
- Salmon-Selway Initiative Area, Salmon-Challis and Sawtooth National Forests: Purchases an old homestead within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, protecting streams where three protected fish species live. $3.5 million
- Upper Lochsa, Clearwater National Forest: Land purchase includes habitat for threatened steelhead and bull trout, Canada lynx, elk, and portions of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. The Nez Perce Tribe gave $7 million for fish habitat restoration in the Upper Lochsa drainage area and plans to continue giving $1 million per year. $1 million
- Hoosier National Forest: Protects Lost River, an underground river running through the second largest cave system in the state. $466,000
- Great Lakes/Great Lands, Hiawatha and Ottawa National Forests: Purchase supports Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by protecting Sturgeon River and wetlands. Protects travel corridors for Eastern Gray Wolf and Canadian lynx. $640,000
- Missouri Ozarks, Mark Twain National Forest: Lands along the Current River will help connect existing national forest lands to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. $990,000
- Legacy Completion, Lolo and Flathead National Forests: Protects watersheds, wildlife habitat and public access to outdoor recreation in and around the Crown of the Continent. Part of the Montana Legacy project, which includes a 111,740-acre land donation. $2 million.
- Tenderfoot Part I, Lewis and Clark National Forest: Provides habitat for West Slope cutthroat trout, elk, moose, and deer in the Tenderfoot watershed of central Montana, as well as public access to hunting and fishing. $2 million
- Miranda Canyon Phase I, Carson National Forest: Provides hunting, sightseeing, camping, hiking and horseback riding in an area marked by scenic vistas, a small volcano and rocks dated to 1.7 million years ago. $3.4 million
- North Carolina Threatened Treasures, National Forests in North Carolina: Helps assure public access to outdoor recreation, ecological integrity and healthy watersheds in an are marked by heavy public use. $1 million
- Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: Opens public access to thousands of acres of public lands that are home to Oregon’s largest herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Also provides habitat for rare plants and birds. $1.4 million
- Pacific North West Streams, multiple national forests: Secures public access to outdoor recreation on lands chosen for their value as key habitat for declining fish populations. $1.1 million
- Rocky Fork, Cherokee National Forest: Protects one of the largest contiguous tracts of private forest in the East, which are valued for their natural resources and recreational opportunities, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, trout fishing, and watching wildlife, rock climbing and hunting. $5 million
- Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest: One of the last undeveloped areas on the Wasatch Front offering summer and winter range for deer and elk. Includes nesting areas for peregrine falcon. $600,000
- Uinta-Wasatch-Cache, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest: Protects historically significant lands associated with building the Trans-Continental Railroad, early fur trapping and logging. $1.2 million
- Washington Cascade Ecosystem, Wenatchee National Forest: Helps consolidate ownership of fragmented lands in the Central Cascades containing important wildlife corridors. $1.5 million