MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation acquired 988 acres of private elk habitat in south-central Montana which it conveyed to the Helena National Forest. The transaction also improved existing access to thousands of acres of Forest Service lands.
“This is another ‘win’ for sportsmen and women who want improved access to some great Montana elk country,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation. “The acquisition breaks up a pattern of private and public land by opening land never before accessible to the public and securing a new entry point into adjacent public land for hunting and other recreational outings.”
Located in the upper Missouri River watershed on the west slope of the Big Belt Mountains, the parcel contains rich, diverse habitat for native wildlife and features large groves of aspen, Douglas fir, grasslands and sagebrush. It is home to large numbers of elk year-round, provides habitat for deer, black bear, mountain lion and other wildlife, and is a migration corridor for grizzlies, lynx and other species.
“This is much more than just vital elk habitat. The property contains a stretch of Ray Creek covering more than two miles,” said Mike Mueller, RMEF land program manager. “The riparian areas are a prime source of cold water habitat for spawning and rearing of westslope cutthroat trout, a native fish currently listed as a Montana Species of Concern.”
The project is a collaborative effort between RMEF, the Helena National Forest and the Neild Family Partnership consisting of four sisters. It received broad support from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, various other state and local government organizations, and numerous conservation and sportsmen groups.
“I am incredibly pleased to share in this moment—a moment that relied heavily on our partnership with RMEF and the support from the Montana Fish & Wildlife Conservation Fund—of celebration with all who have spent countless hours working on this incredibly important project that brought 988 acres of land, within the Canyon Ferry Lake watershed, into public access and ownership,” Forest Supervisor Bill Avey said. “Through this partnership and all the hard work put into the acquisition, these lands will provide excellent elk habitat, aspen groves and pure-strain Westslope cutthroat trout habitat for many generations to come.”
“We are grateful for the Neild family and their recognition of the importance of conserving a vital piece of land that plays such an important role for elk and so many other different species,” added Henning.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Trust, RMEF and the Land and Water Conservation Fund provided funding for the project along with other funding partners, all with the same goal of conserving valuable fish and wildlife habitat, open space and productive forest and grasslands.