Big Snowy Mountains Could Open Up with MT Land Purchase
Thursday, June 2, 2022
Montana is considering a purchase of land in the central part of the state that could open up access to more than 100,000 acres of public land.
Educational flights are taking place starting today to tour the Big Snowy Mountains, which could see more visitors with the purchase of a ranch in the southern foothills.
The 5,600-acre ranch was gifted to Shodair Children's Hospital when its owner died. Craig Aasved is CEO of the hospital.
"We knew we would likely not hold onto that property," said Aasved. "But what was most important to us is selling that property but selling it where it would be to a buyer that would make it public for citizens of Montana."
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has concluded an environmental assessment of the purchase, which would be known as the Big Snowy Mountains Wildlife Management Area, and concluded it wouldn't have any negative impacts.
Public commenters opposed to the proposal raised concerns about noise, increased risk of fire because of human use in the area and loss of grazing.
Glenn Ellison is a retired wildlife biologist and Montana Wildlife Federation board member. He said the Big Snowy Mountains public lands are landlocked, so to speak, by private lands surrounding it, providing few access points for hunters and recreationists.
"This is a really big deal for the public," said Ellison. "Not only is the land itself valuable wildlife habitat and recreational land, but it opens up a vast area beyond that that was heretofore, for all practical sense, inaccessible for the public."
The elk population in the area is 900% above the targeted level, according to Fish, Wildlife and Parks. State Sen. Jeff Welborn - R-Dillon - said those elk impact private lands and opening access to hunters could benefit those land owners.
"If that helps harvest animals in that area to get more to an objective level, to me that looks like a win-win for everybody," said Welborn, "both the public-land hunter and the private-land owner."
To pay, in part, for the acquisition, Fish, Wildlife and Parks has proposed using state funding from Habitat Montana, a program that gets some of its funding from recreational marijuana sales.
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