The Condon easement adds to wildlife conservation efforts

Laura Lundquist

(present-day Missoula) Thanks to a new partnership, another 30 acres will be saved for wildlife in the Swan River Valley.

On Thursday, Vital Ground, a land trust that prioritizes grizzly bear habitat, announced that an easement has been placed on 30 acres of forested wetland surrounding Condon Creek along Highway 83 in Swan Valley.

A group called Montana Freshwater Partners, formerly Montana Aquatic Resources Services, has been working with private landowners to devise a plan to restore portions of previously drained wetlands and convert them to farmland.

“(Montana Fresh Water Partners) oversees wetland mitigation dollars for the state of Montana. They needed a partner who could provide some long-term protection for their restoration investment,” said Mitch Doherty, director of conservation at Vital Ground. Only a deed limitation, but these landowners were interested in an easement for preservation, so they reached out. We’ve been working on this for about a year now.”

The area around Condon and Salmon Prairie is a major migration corridor through the Swan Valley for many species, including grizzly bears, lynxes, and wolverines. In addition, the Salmon Prairie wetlands maintain water quantity and quality in a prime habitat area for native bull trout, a federally threatened species, and Westslope cutthroat trout.

But zoning and development on remaining private land is a growing threat. Reducing human impacts and restoring habitat is key to preserving wildlife.

Trail camera captures a grizzly bear. (Image courtesy Vital ground)

Trail camera captures a grizzly bear. (Image courtesy Vital ground)

Easement ownership borders public lands and other protected private lands, so the project ensures that the forested wetland habitat remains undeveloped within the wildlife corridor connecting the Mission and Swan Mountains. By working with Montana’s Freshwater Partners, landowners hope that habitat restoration efforts will improve species diversity, natural water storage, and wildlife habitats.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Vital Ground and landowners to protect this unique property,” said Leah Schwartz, project manager, Montana Fresh Water Partners. “Forested wetlands can take hundreds of years to develop on a landscape, so protecting those that remain intact is a priority. The landowners’ game cameras have captured nearly every species you could imagine using their property, from great gray owls to mountain lions and grizzly bears.” .

Doherty said the first easement for Vital Ground in 20 years was in Swan Valley. The Land Trust now owns about 1,000 acres of easement in the Swan Valley, and Doherty expects to add more.

“We’re looking at a few other opportunities in Swan, trying to use the Missoula County Open Space Bond funds. This project was in Lake County, so we didn’t have that available to us,” Doherty said.

It was the first time Vital Ground had worked with Montana Freshwater Partners, and Doherty said they made a good team. Realizing that they complement each other well, the two organizations are looking for other projects they can collaborate on.

“We’re looking at some projects with Montana Fresh Water Partners in the Flathead and possibly along the Rocky Mountain Front,” Doherty said. “We’re constantly shooting ideas back and forth where they have some restoration investments and where they have landowners interested in long-term preservation. It’s a unique and happy partnership.”

Reporter Laura Lundquist is at

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