Grizzly bear managers voice concerns for Weyerhaeuser’s sale of Montana timberlands

In northwest Montana, state and federal biologists manage grizzly bears on a day-to-day basis. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks)

Members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee on Wednesday said they’re worried about the potential impact of the sale of hundreds of thousands of acres of bear habitat in northwest Montana to a private equity firm.

On Tuesday, Weyerhaeuser Company announced it was selling 630,000 acres of its timberland to an unnamed private investment firm for $145 million. In 2016, Weyerhaeuser took control of 880,000 acres of Plum Creek Timber land. Tuesday’s sale accounts for about 70% of that and includes an 110,000-acre conservation easement for public access. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Casworm said he recalled the former Plum Creek easement was in the Fisher River basin.

A fair amount of Weyerhaeuser’s land is in the Salish Mountains between Kalispell and Libby, so it provides connectivity for grizzly bears moving between the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists have to transplant NCDE bears into the Cabinet-Yaak region to keep the population going, but they’d rather the bears figure out how to move between the regions on their own.

Wilderness Watch spokesman George Nickus asked the IGBC if they would try to approach the buyer and stress the importance of keeping the area somewhat wild.

Martha Williams, FWP director and new IGBC chair, said it was difficult to do much until the buyer was known, which may not happen until the transaction is complete in the second quarter of 2020.

“Once we know that, we’ll approach them pretty quickly with at least an understanding of what the long-term vision is. It means a lot for those communities over there for access and recreation opportunities,” said FWP supervisor Randy Arnold.