Prime Elk Country Saved from Swan Song
640 acres protected and opened to the public
This property would have been subdivided,” Mike Mueller says flatly. “These are literally million-dollar views, and there are little prominences with level, solid ground scattered all across it. You could have cut it up and built it out into 10-, 20-, 40-acre Shangri Las. People would have snapped them up.”
That fate would have rippled out, eroding the habitat and the hunting on all sides, because the property in question is 640 acres of aspens, pines and meadows surrounded entirely by northwest Montana’s Flathead National Forest.
It lies only a mile from the shores of Holland Lake, a sprawling blue hourglass beloved by locals and tourists alike. The only thing more spectacular than sunrises on the serrated skyline of the Mission Mountains to the west might be sunsets washing across the peaks of the Swan Range just to the east.
“It’s a gem nestled between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Mission Mountains Wilderness,” says Mueller, RMEF’s senior lands program manager for Montana. “Just a jewel in the Crown of the Continent.”
Thanks to conservation-minded landowners, though, this land is now owned by every American and open to all. The family who owned it could have opted for maximum profits. They chose instead to sell to the Elk Foundation and ultimately make their land national forest.
Biodiversity is an overworked buzzword, but if ever there’s a place where it applies, this is it. In addition to providing year-round habitat for elk, moose, mule deer and whitetails, the Swan is a stronghold for Canada lynx, wolverines, grizzlies, bull trout, goshawks and more.
“There is a chain of wetlands on this place, ponds and springs that feed Holland Creek,” Mueller says. “It’s the definition of headwaters—source of some of the cleanest, coldest water in America.”
Competition for scarce Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars is fierce, but RMEF, the Forest Service and many supporters made the case. LWCF funds covered 100 percent of this acquisition.
“This is why nonprofit land trusts like RMEF are so vital,” Mueller says. “Even when it’s the most crucial inholding in the world, the Forest Service and other federal agencies legally cannot option a property until they have the funding authorized. By then, much of the best elk country would be long gone if people like us didn’t take the initiative, do the legwork and secure it.”