It is a time-tested and popular model. A private landowner is willing to sell land or conservation easements to the government. A third party conservation group steps in to provide bridge funding and/or ownership until the government can fund the purchase. In this case, involving the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as the intermediary:
“The project, which was in its very early stages, would provide some valuable new access points in the area as well as protection from development along a stretch of Sheep Creek, a tributary of the Smith River, he said. In addition to the 4,000 acres purchased and then resold to the Forest Service, the checkerboard pattern of land ownership would mean access to an additional 7,000 acres of public land.”
While Meagher County (pronounced “mar”) doesn’t have any authority to influence the deal, it is attempting to do so by issuing a resolution opposing it, citing “potential loss of tax revenue, issues with federal land ownership and management, and the question of whether a land swap could open access without expanding federal land ownership.” The resolution says, “that the commission respects private property rights and supports tourism but continues to oppose expanded federal ownership.” (Funny that they don’t mention elk hunting/hunters, which has to be a key benefit.) Their opposition may affect how the project competes for funding, and whether RMEF wants to stay involved.
The Forest Service, to its credit, is looking out for the “greatest good” and not bowing to nimbyism or political ideology.
“We acknowledge Meagher County’s resolution and recognize their position regarding the Holmstrom Sheep Creek proposal,” said Lisa Stoeffler, acting forest supervisor. “We appreciate that our working relationship with the commission allows for open discussions, especially related to increased recreational public lands access and the improvement of crucial fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas within the county. The Forest plans to submit two project requests for LWCF funding, one of which will include Holmstrom Sheep Creek. In our request packet, we will fully disclose the Commission’s resolution regarding the project.”
These have normally been seen as “white hat” projects in the past, but under this Administration, the Forest Service may find out that white is the new black.