The Next Bite of the Elephant – Garrity Mountain, Montana
612 acres adds to nearly 34,000 acres RMEF has protected and opened to public access
December 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of one of RMEF’s largest land protection and access wins, the 32,000-acre Watershed Project west of Anaconda, Montana. And how better to celebrate than by adding yet another square mile of meadows, aspen stands and creek bottom to the public treasury?
This newest parcel was initially sacrificed to keep the Watershed purchase affordable. It represents a return to public ownership almost a century in the making. Prior to 1928, tens of thousands of acres hugging the snow-capped summit of Mount Haggin and nearby Garrity Mountain were part of the National Forest Preserve, precursor to the national forest system. But that year the Montana legislature passed a bill allowing the Anaconda Copper Company to trade some of its acres elsewhere for those lands.
Anaconda and the nearby mining mecca of Butte, “The World’s Richest Hill,” were booming cities with thousands of migrants extracting millions of tons of copper—at one point nearly half the world’s output. To smelt all that ore, Anaconda built a 585-foot smoke stack that is still the world’s tallest free-standing brick structure. Large enough to swallow the Washington Monument, it took epic scaffolding to stack that many bricks—not to mention all the timber needed in the mines. That led the Anaconda Company to eye the slopes of Haggin and Garrity. R-Y Timber bought that land in the 1990s, and conservation-minded owner Ron Yonke brokered a sale with RMEF and others to put thousands of acres of vital winter range for deer, elk, moose and bighorns back into public hands.
To help keep it affordable, the deal excluded the richest and most accessible habitat along Warm Springs Creek. Over the past decade, much of that has found its way home to the public. In 2014, RMEF partnered with the Conservation Fund to purchase 640 acres. That was followed in 2019 and early 2020 by 160-acre and 244-acre parcels RMEF helped purchase bordering the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to the south.
Then before 2020 drew to a close, a conservation-minded landowner came to RMEF offering to sell 612 acres, including three-quarters of a mile of Warm Springs Creek, providing great new access plus key habitat for westslope cutthroat and federally-threatened bull trout. Funded in part by RMEF’s Torstenson Family Endowment and Montana’s Natural Resource Damage Program, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Fish, Wildlife and Parks, these acquisitions are now part of the Garrity Mountain and Mount Haggin WMAs, spanning 65,000 acres of superb elk country between them.
Chris Marchion of the Anaconda Sportsman’s Club played a key role in the original acquisition, and was thrilled to hear the latest news.
“This will be a huge asset for the public, not just for hunting but for fishing, hiking or even just a summer picnic along the creek,” he says. “Like the old saying goes, sometimes you’ve got to eat an elephant one bite at a time, and all these efforts year after year keep adding to this treasure.”
New Acres and Access for Anaconda’s Ace-in-the-Hole – Mount Haggin, Montana
Rolling into Anaconda, Montana, you won’t miss the smelter stack that juts 585 feet above the valley. It has remained America’s tallest free-standing brick structure since it was built in 1919 to process copper from nearby Butte. But elk hunters will pay more attention to 10,607-foot Mount Haggin towering behind the stack and a mile higher than town with shoulders cloaked in aspen. The Elk Foundation purchased more than 32,000 acres of prime elk country owned by R-Y Timber here in 2000. Now public land divided between national forest and the
state-owned Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area, it is all open to hunting and fishing. The RMEF has remained invested in this country ever since, granting more than $100,000 for noxious weed treatments, fence removal and other habitat work on the WMA.
In 2014, RMEF partnered with the Conservation Fund to purchase 640 acres adjacent to the WMA and almost touching Anaconda’s town limits. This forever protects key habitat that faced growing development pressure due to its proximity and jaw-dropping scenery. Soon it also will provide a new walk-in trailhead close enough to Anaconda that young hunters will be able to ride their bikes over to chase elk.
As many as 200 elk use the newly acquired land in the winter and give birth to calves among the aspens come spring. RMEF volunteers celebrated their Montana Summer Rendezvous here in July 2014 by coiling long stretches of barbwire fence no longer needed to mark the limits of public access.
In addition to all the aspen, the parcel’s native grasslands, creeks and ponds also make it popular with moose, white-tailed deer, black bears and ruffed grouse, and more than a dozen members of Montana’s species-of-concern list, including wolverines, peregrine falcons and Preble’s shrews.