Creating a Community Forest in the Heart of the Blackfoot Watershed

Year Action
2003 Community meetings and survey to discuss
creation of a community area.
2004 Plum Creek Timber Company sells the land to
The Nature Conservancy as part of the
Blackfoot Community Project.
2005 15-member community council established.
2005 US Fish & Wildlife Service purchases a conservation
easement on the 5,600-acre BCCA “core.”
2007 Management Plan for the Core completed.
2007 Baseline inventory of natural resources and
current conditions completed.
2008 The Nature Conservancy sells the land
to the Blackfoot Challenge.

For centuries, mid-elevation forests in the Blackfoot watershed have contributed significant biological, agricultural, and cultural value to communities living throughout the area. Beginning with Native American tribes including the Salish, Kootenai, and Blackfeet, to early homesteaders and ranchers, these forested habitats have provided forage and cover for wildlife, timber and other forest products, grazing, hunting, and recreation opportunities. 

In 2003, recognizing the conservation value and increasing potential for habitat fragmentation of some of these privately-owned forest lands, the Blackfoot Challenge and The Nature Conservancy initiated a large-scale land acquisition effort known as the Blackfoot Community Project to purchase up to 89,215 acres of Plum Creek Timber Company lands in the Blackfoot watershed. The overall goal of the Blackfoot Community Project was to conserve and keep these lands intact through re-sale to both public and private owners based on a community-driven plan.

As part of the process, in May 2003, community members met in Ovando to discuss the opportunity of developing a community conservation area at the base of Ovando Mountain. Residents expressed support for keeping the area open for future generations and maintaining traditional uses such as hunting, foot and horseback use, snowmobiling, grazing, and sustainable timber management. Many community members also highlighted the value of the area for wildlife habitat and travel.

The next phase of public participation involved the distribution of a mail survey to local landowners and residents in the Ovando and Helmville areas in October 2004. The purpose of the survey was to collect information on the opinions of local residents related to future use, ownership, and management of the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area.

Comments from the 2003 Community Survey:

“The Blackfoot Community Conservation Area should be a model of collaborative management for sustained multiple use with conservation values on an equal footing with other values.”

“A well managed rural area that is open to the public but allows wildlife to flourish.”

“A ‘showcase’ of stewardship and a well-managed healthy forest, one that the Blackfoot community can take pride in.”

The BCCA involves two distinct phases. The first phase involves local management and administration of 5,609.37 acres of former Plum Creek Timber Company lands that were transferred from The Nature Conservancy to the Blackfoot Challenge in 2008, also referred to as the BCCA Core. The second phase involves ongoing joint management of the Core with the larger BCCA itself—the surrounding public and private lands that comprise a 41,000-acre multiple use demonstration area for the watershed.

Land ownership in the BCCA is comprised of Lolo National Forest (59%), State of Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (7%), State of Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (13%), private lands (7%) and community-owned lands (the Core) through the Blackfoot Challenge (14%). Lands in the BCCA are still subject to the legal and administrative rules and regulations of their respective owners. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) provides the legal framework for public agencies and private landowners to partner in cooperative cross-boundary ecosystem management.

The BCCA Core is managed and administered by the BCCA Council—a committee of the Blackfoot Challenge—consisting of fifteen members representing agencies owning land or rights within or adjacent to the Core, private landowners, recreational user groups, local businesses and/or commercial outfitters. The original Council was appointed by the Blackfoot Challenge Board of Directors in July 2005 to coordinate a baseline inventory of the property, create the Management Plan for the Core, and develop the MOU for cooperative management of the 41,000-acre BCCA.

Learn about the Governance & Management of the BCCA.

Visit the BCCA.