FWP Releases Draft Proposal to Purchase Land at Foot of Big Snowy Mountains | State and Region

Acquiring 5,677 acres in the foothills of the Big Snowy Mountains north of Ryegate will cost Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks $8.22 million, according to the agency’s draft environmental assessment. Another $22,000 would be needed to pay closing costs.

The document was posted on the FWP website as the agency opens a public comment period on the proposal to create a new wildlife management area. An online public meeting has also been set for April 12 at 6:30 p.m.

When FWP first solicited public opinion on the purchase in fall 2020, 559 people submitted comments, with 99% supporting the idea.

The Big Snowy Mountains are a chain of islands in central Montana.






This map shows the Shodair Children’s Hospital property circled in red. Yellow is BLM’s Twin Coulee WSA. Green is Forest Service land and blue is state sections.


Image courtesy of Montana FWP


Owners

The land belongs to Shodair Children’s Hospital. The Helena-based facility received the Forrest Allen Estate land in 2019. Allen’s parents moved to the area in the early 1900s. Since then, Shodair has worked with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to facilitate the sale to FWP.

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The previous Fish and Wildlife Commission encouraged the purchase to continue in 2020, recognizing the value of the native property that connects to the Bureau of Land Management’s 6,936-acre Twin Coulee Wilderness Study Area and the WSA Big 88,696 acre, forest managed snowies. Service.

Since then, Greg Gianforte has been elected governor. He oversaw a transition of the Fish and Wildlife Commission from five to seven members with six new members appointed under his leadership.

Additionally, during last year’s legislative session, Senator Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, sponsored a bill, which passed, which will now require FWP land purchases to be approved by the Land Board. of State. The council includes the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and commissioner of securities and insurance, an all-Republican council.

Funding

Money for the purchase of the land would come from the federal Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration fund (75%) and the state’s Habitat Montana fund (25%). Funded by a portion of hunting license sales from non-residents, Habitat Montana generates approximately $5-6 million annually.

Two years ago, the FWP was also considering the purchase of 8,380 adjoining acres owned by Killam Ranch Properties of Laredo, Texas. This land has since been sold to Joe and Jeralee Heiken, ranchers in the Broadview area.

List price for the Killam property, advertised as 9,020 acres, was $12.5 million. If the land is sold at the quoted price, that amounts to $1,385 per acre. The Shodair property was valued at $1,448 per acre, demonstrating the rising value of land in Montana.

WMA

According to the draft EA, “the proposed Big Snowy Mountains WMZ consists entirely of native mountain/foothill and grassland habitats,” ranging in elevation from 4,750 to 6,000 feet. The acreage provides habitat for elk, deer, black bears, occasional moose, cougars, bobcats, pronghorns, and other native species, including at least 22 species of state concern. “Therefore, these habitats are beneficial for maintaining huntable and conspicuous populations of game and non-game species, both migratory and resident,” the draft EA states.

“Non-game species such as golden and bald eagles, long-billed curlews, ferruginous hawks and mountain plovers are also seen.

“During the 2022 FWP Winter Elk Surveys, 113 elk were observed” in the field.

Big Snowy Mountains WMA is part of FWP Deer/Moose Hunting District 535, Antelope HD 516 and Bear Management Unit 580.

“The property is surrounded by large absentee landowners who rarely provide recreational opportunities to the general public,” the EA draft says. “Lack of public access to elk is the major contributing factor to the elk population being approximately 900% above target.”

Details

An existing 15-year grazing lease is in effect until April 1, 2031, and FWP would honor the lease.

A comprehensive Big Snowy Mountains WMA Management Plan would be drafted within the first year of ownership.

The WMA would be closed for public recreation from December 1 to May 15 each year to allow wildlife undisturbed access to wintering range habitat.

Motorized use would be restricted to designated roads and parking areas.

Scattered camping would be permitted unless otherwise specified. Camping would be limited to 16 days in any 30 day period.

Construction work would include repairing fences and water pipes, installing cattle guards, signage and metal barriers, and treating weeds. The initial maintenance costs expected for the structure are estimated at $714,000.

Public use would be limited to access on foot or horseback from the two designated parking areas.

Most recreational use is expected to occur during the hunting season, which will be intermittent and scattered.

By law, FWP pays county taxes equal to the amount a private landowner would be required to pay.

Details of the online public meeting are available on the FWP website – fwp.mt.gov – on the day of the meeting.

Public comments will be accepted until 2 p.m. April 25 and can be mailed to: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks ATTN: Big Snowy Mountains WMA Acquisition, 2300 Lake Elmo Dr. Billings, MT 59105. Or by email to [email protected] Please use the subject line, “Big Snowy Mountains WMA Acquisition”.

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