April 22, 2016
National Access Funding Cements
Montana Elk Habitat, Public Access Project
MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and other partners permanently protected 800 acres of prime elk habitat while also improving access to approximately 5,500 acres of surrounding public land in southwest Montana.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been instrumental in our ability to secure recreational access to Montana’s public lands,” said Leanne Marten, Regional Forester of the Forest Service’s Northern Region. “Recreation is a major component of Montana’s economy and access to our forests is so important. We are proud that Zekes Meadow was the first use of the 2016 LWCF’s Priority Recreation Access appropriations in the National Forest System.”
“We are grateful to our partners for recognizing the conservation values of this particular project and its benefits for wildlife and public access,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation. “We also thank our congressional lawmakers for supporting LWCF funding and urge them to fully reauthorize this vital program currently set to expire in 2018.”
Located in Granite County west of Georgetown Lake within the Rock Creek watershed, including its headwaters, the property consists of two inholdings on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The southernmost portion features aspen-lined meadows and riparian habitat including Moose Meadow Creek which provides spawning grounds for westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. The northern section includes a ponderosa pine-dominated forest, springs, wetlands and streams that are home to nearly 500 elk as well as moose, deer, grizzly bear, mountain lion and wolverine.
As part of the transaction, RMEF conveyed the land to the USFS for management purposes. The project connected more than 15 miles of public trails on land that was previously difficult to reach. Hunters, hikers, anglers and others now have access to the trailhead and can park on the USFS property.
“The landowners were willing to sell the entire property in order for the Forest Service to be able to extend public access across the land,” said Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Pintler District Ranger Charlene Bucha. “This access connects to an extensive system of trails within the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area and secures backcountry recreation for horseback riding, hiking, fishing, camping, and hunting.”
LWCF Recreational Access Funding is used by federal agencies to secure access for the American public to its federal lands. Agencies work with willing landowners to secure rights-of-ways, easements or fee simple lands that provide public access, or consolidate federal ownership so that the public has intact places to hike, hunt and fish.
In addition to LWCF Recreational Access Funding via the USFS, other funding partners include RMEF’s Torstenson Family Endowment (TFE) and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
RMEF uses TFE funding solely to further its core mission programs of permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration and hunting heritage.