a bull elk
(Photo/Harry Collins, Shutterstock)

Haaland Designates America’s Newest Wildlife Refuge

The Lost Trail Conservation Area is the first expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System under Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

In a win for public lands protections in Montana, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland today announced the formation of the country’s newest National Wildlife Refuge. The Lost Trail Conservation Area, in northwestern Montana, is the 568th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge system. It’s the first under Secretary Haaland’s leadership.

“The Lost Trail Conservation Area will help guarantee that future generations have access to the same woods and waters as we enjoy today for hunting, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing,” Haaland said in a statement.

“National wildlife refuges are one of the most important ways we can connect all Americans to public lands. I am grateful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners for the locally led collaboration that led to this important milestone.”

(Photo/Mark Van Scyoc via Shutterstock)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) purchased the conservation easement at over 38,000 acres from its owner, Southern Pine Plantations Montana. The agency partnered with the Trust for Public Land and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the purchase.

Now, the tract links up several important wildlife migration corridors and helps protect classic North American fauna. It will facilitate migration and habitat for grizzlies, wolverines, elk, and other species in the area. It connects parts of Glacier National Park, the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, the Selkirk Mountains, and the Coeur d’Alene Mountains in Idaho.

a wolverine
A wolverine; (photo/AB Photographie via Shutterstock)

USFWS Preserves Recreational Access ‘in Perpetuity’

However, protected wildlife won’t be completely insulated from humans. Sustainable commercial timber harvests will continue on the land where the industry exists on a legacy basis. As a bonus for locals seeking recreation, the easement preserves “wildlife-dependent” public access in perpetuity.

“Locally led conservation efforts such as this provide a lasting impact on our efforts to protect crucial wildlife habitat for threatened, endangered, and priority species while prioritizing recreational access,” said USFWS Director Martha Williams. She also expressed the service’s “gratitude” to the purchasing partners.

The purchase drew funding from the Great American Outdoors Act. It’s the end result of a 20-year, locally led effort to preserve big-game corridors in Northwestern Montana. If you’re a public lands wonk, you can read the Lost Trail Conservation Area’s land protection plan and environmental assessment in full.

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Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is a writer, painter, and photographer with work in publications across the web. Andrew lives, runs, bikes, paddles, and skis in the Tahoe basin on the California/Nevada state line. He's one of the few unapologetic cat people in the outdoor industry. You can find him on Instagram (@andrewmarshallimages) or Twitter (@pawn_andrew).