Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A 90-acre parcel prized for its wildlife cover and habitat became the newest piece of Missoula County's patchwork of open space on Thursday.

The Mission View project, spearhead by the Five Valleys Land Trust at the request of the property's owners, was set to close on Friday. The public contribution to secure the easement amounts to roughly $26,000 in funding provided by the 2006 Open Space Bond.

The agreement preserves the property as open space in perpetuity.

“We're talking about a donated conservation easement on 90 acres,” said Eric Greenwell, project manager with Five Valleys. “The wildlife habitat and native plant communities, this project definitely advances those goals.”

The property includes a reach of Finley Creek, which contains a pure population of Westslope cutthroat trout. It's also home to grizzly bears, elk and bighorn sheep, among other species.

The cover provided by the timbered landscape, in conjunction with surrounding undeveloped parcels, makes it ideal as a wildlife corridor, advocates said.

Greenwell noted that the property is located within the traditional boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation. However, it was sold out of tribal ownership through the allotment process in the 1920s.

Conserving the parcel fits with the goals of the Confederate Salish and Kootanai Tribes, Greenwell said.

“This would protect and meet some of the goals of the Flathead Reservation Comprehensive Resource Plan,” Greenwell said. “These 90 acres connects a lot of other large portions of protected property that are managed for wildlife habitat. What you're seeing is not just 90 acres, but a corridor for wildlife.”

Voters in 2006 approved a $10 million open space bond and given the property's “unique conservation values,” the Open Space Advisory Committee considered it a good fit for funding from the bond.

“It's heavily timbered and is ideal as a wildlife cover area and a wildlife corridor,” said committee member Ron Slater. “We all agreed the parcel meets the intent of the open space bond.”

Missoula County commissioners agree and initially approved bond proceeds for the project in September. The agreement was finalized on Thursday, one day before Five Valleys was set to close on the property with the landowners.

“This is a worthy project and a good investment of public bond dollars,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.