Elk NetworkRMEF Announces Major Montana Public Access Victory

Conservation , News Releases | December 5, 2022

MISSOULA, Mont. — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is pleased to announce it helped conserve and open public access to 5,668 acres of prime wildlife habitat in central Montana.  

RMEF successfully worked with Shodair Children’s Hospital (SCH) to acquire and then convey the property to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) which will be now known as the Big Snowy Mountains Wildlife Management Area.  

“Plain and simple, this was an organizational priority for us this year,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “This is a big win for elk and other wildlife. It also marks a significant victory for habitat, conservation, hunting, public access and a win for all sportsmen and women, all while honoring Montana’s long-time agricultural traditions.”  

The transaction opens new access to the property but also improves public access to more than 4,300 acres of adjacent public land in a part of Montana where access is challenging. 

“The state has a vested interest in seeing land conserved for wildlife habitat while also keeping ranchers on the landscape for the benefit of our communities,” said Montana Governor Greg Gianforte. “We married those two interests in this agreement, keeping the land available for cattle grazing while opening access for hunters to pristine wildlife habitat in the Big Snowies. This is a win-win for Montana.” 

“We’re grateful for all the efforts our partners and FWP staff have put into this project,” said FWP Director Hank Worsech. “When this new wildlife management area opens, hunters and recreationists will have some incredible opportunities in an amazing part of our state. All while protecting wildlife habitat and preserving cattle grazing operations for generations to come.” 

The property features a mixture of high-quality grasslands and meadows, mature forests, aspen stands and several mountain springs and intermittent streams. 

SCH is a youth psychiatric hospital in Helena, Montana.  

“We’re a nonprofit hospital, and our mission for the last 126 years has been taking care of Montana’s most vulnerable kids,” said Shodair CEO Craig Aasved.  “Last year we saw patients from 52 of Montana’s 56 counties, and 99 percent of our kids are Montana residents. This sale helps fund construction of our replacement hospital building to help us serve even more Montana children, but we also wanted this gift to benefit Montanans in general.  That’s why we chose this path.”  

Project partners include hunters thanks to Pittman-Robertson excise taxes, Habitat Montana, Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust. RMEF also committed $250,000 to help FWP with set-up and future property management improvements including fencing, invasive weed control, water developments, signage and maps. 

“We greatly appreciate our partners, volunteers and members, the Montana Land Board and both the immediate community for its support and the greater outdoor community for helping to push this project across the finish line,” added Weaver. 

The new WMA, which like other WMAs linked to winter range habitat remains closed until spring, is near RMEF’s Red Hill project that opened the door to 18,000 acres of public access in 2013. 

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation: 

Founded more than 38 years ago and fueled by hunters, RMEF maintains more than 225,000 members and has conserved more than 8.5 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.