Seeley Lake, public lands advocate Von Stutterheim dies a week after day named in his honor

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, left, swears in Seeley Lake Community Council candidates Klaus von Stutterheim, right, and Bruce Friede in May 2018. (Photo courtesy of Missoula County)

A week after proclaiming Feb. 16 as Klaus Von Stutterheim Day, Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday announced his passing, calling him a good friend and public servant.

Stutterheim, a long-time community advocate for Seeley Lake and Missoula County as a whole, recently resigned his spot on the Seeley Lake Community Council due to illness.

“It’s quite a loss,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said Tuesday. “Klaus was a great person.”

Before his passing, the county adopted a proclamation in his honor, naming one day in February after the volunteer and community leader who often brought together diverging viewpoints in a friendly way.

But it was his role in the conservation community that earned Von Stutterheim special recognition. The county said he understood the challenges facing landowners in the Clearwater and Blackfoot watershed and often advocated on their behalf.

“Klaus quietly played a significant role in the acquisition of more than 310,000 acres of Plum Creek land by the national land trusts in western Montana,” the county noted. “The Montana Legacy lands are now in the capable hands of the public, and the resources they house will benefit generations of residents and visitors well into the future.”

In 2017, the county approved spending $90,000 in bond proceeds to protect Woodworth Meadows, and area property owners also contributed to the easement thanks in part to Von Stutterheim.

Von Stutterheim was among the first residents to bring Missoula County to the table with a group of landowners in an effort to outline a plan to protect the land and water around Woodworth Meadows.

In doing so, the county said, he introduced community conservation to private sector land trusts, including Five Valleys, that now work across the county on conservation efforts with willing landowners.

Von Stutterheim also earned a reputation as a fundraiser, a human rights advocate and a friend of those facing difficult times.

“I will never forget the first time Klaus called and introduced himself,” said Pat O’Herren, the county’s retired planning officer. “Because of the work he’s done, he helped change the course of my department, the course of the county commissioners office and the county in general. I feel very fortunate to have known him.”

After Von Stutterheim brought county leaders and landowners together, the county formed a rural initiative in 2006, the same year Missoula County voters adopted an open space bond. Work to conserve Woodworth Meadows would follow.

Located just south of Seeley Lake, the area serves as a key migration coordinator for wintering elk as well as other species. In 2017, the county approved spending $90,000 in bond proceeds to protect the 100-acre parcel from further development, and area property owners also contributed to the easement.

Klaus Von Stutterheim

In recent years, Von Stutterheim also was an advocate of open elections, and he often penned letters to the editor in the Missoula Current urging voters to vote while naming his own preferred candidates and where he stood on various issues.

“My opinion: people will smoke or eat marijuana anyway; it’s already legal in a number of states,” he wrote last October. “Instead of wasting resources to fight it, let’s convert it into a revenue source. I am voting YES.”

Commissioner Juanita Vero and Dave Strohmaier also praised Von Stutterheim’s legacy.

“I’m glad we were able to adopt the proclamation that we did in recognition for his many, many years of service to Missoula County,” Strohmaier said. “We urge all Missoula County residents to emulate the example of Klaus and give back to their friends, neighbors and community in a way that leaves this place better than we found it.”