Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) While questions remain, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday set a public hearing on whether to apply funding from the open space bond to conserve more than 1,600 acres of private land northwest of the city.

The Inderland Ranch is comprised of both grasslands and forest and was identified by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as a Tier 1 focus area for wildlife. It was also identified as a key piece of the Yellowstone to Yukon wildlife corridor.

“It's a key connectivity area,” said Ben Horan with the Five Valleys Land Trust. “Not only this area, but the ridgeline on this project is a main connector between the Yellowstone ecosystems for grizzly bears, lynx, wolverine and other large, wide-ranging fauna. It doesn't take a lot of development and disturbance to start interrupting those migration patterns.”

Along with its wildlife values, advocates of the proposal said it would preserve a working ranch and its grasslands, along with the creeks upon the property. It also offers scenic values, as the property is visible from the Missoula Valley.

Kali Becher with the county's parks and trails said the proposal qualifies for joint city-county open space funding given its location in the greater Missoula Valley planning area.

“The interlocal agreement for both (open space) bonds set a jurisdictional boundary of the Missoula Valley planning region,” Becher said. “That boundary is where half the open space funding is allocated to be spent within the Missoula Valley planning region. Half is administered by the city and half is administered by the county.”

The property location in the greater Missoula Valley planning area.
The property location in the greater Missoula Valley planning area.

Horan said the property is valued at roughly $2.4 million. But the National Resources Conservation Service has already awarded 50% of the purchase price. Coupled with private donations and other funding sources, advocates are seeking $688,000 from the open space bond.

Half of that would come from the city and half from the county.

“This is a property visible from Missoula. There's definitely a potential threat of development,” said Horan. “It contributes to the city's goals on climate. It's a grassland property and conservation of these grasslands contribute to carbon sequestration. We went on a site visit, and we scoped out a couple of elk in different areas.”

While council members agreed that the property has a public value in terms of conservation and wildlife protection, they appeared a bit surprised to learn that the proposal didn't come with a guarantee of public access.

But Horan said that's not set in stone.

“While they may not include a public access component from the outset, there's nothing in the agreement or the project that would prevent future public access,” he said.

The public hearing was set for Aug. 28.