The 440,000-acre Swan Valley in western Montana is characterized by patches of private land within a checkerboard of public and corporate land situated between wilderness areas that comprise a 10-million-acre wildlife habitat. In the mid-1990s the Plum Creek Timber Company began converting some of its working forest lands to real estate; residents organized area stakeholders to identify options for removing the development potential of the checkerboard timberland. The Swan Lands Coordinating Committee employed a variety of means for conserving the land. Land exchanges between the timber industry and federal parties had limited success due to opposition from environmental groups. Conservation easements protected 7,200 acres but the timber company opposed valley-wide easements. A 640-acre community forest was created through collaboration among the Swan Ecosystem Center and local tribes. Land-use planning efforts proved too contentious to provide a timely response. Ultimately, land acquisition emerged as the best tool for landscape-scale solutions.
Keywords: Swan Valley, Montana, Plum Creek Timber Company, working forest lands, community forest, conservation easement, land exchange, checkerboard land ownership