Access Improved to Key Montana Elk Winter Range

MISSOULA, Mont. — A swath of vital western Montana elk winter range is now conserved and opened to public access thanks to a collaborative effort by a conservation-minded family, the Bureau of Land Management and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

“No matter the size, every piece of elk habitat counts. And protecting this small parcel keeps the landscape intact,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “We appreciate the Webster family for recognizing and valuing public access while working with us to get this deal done.”

The 40-acre tract in the Big Hole Valley was previously a private inholding surrounded on three sides by BLM-managed lands. Now falling under BLM management, it ensures winter range for elk, mule deer and moose remains connected.

“The Johnson Creek acquisition will maintain important habitat connectivity for wildlife and improve public land access for recreationists. We are grateful to our partners at RMEF and landowners like John Webster and Jennifer Gilchrist,” said Lindsey Babcock, Butte field manager of BLM’s Western Montana District.

“Wildlife habitat continues to be under increased development pressure in southwest Montana and we wanted to make sure this piece of land stayed the way it was,” said John Webster and Jennifer Gilchrist. “It feels good knowing that we helped conserve a piece of elk country while expanding public access to both this parcel and neighboring public lands.”

The property lies within the Fleecer Mountains approximately 10 miles northwest of the small community of Wise River near the Big Hole River. Adjacent to more than 12,000 acres of public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, State of Montana and the BLM, the transaction immediately improves access to 1,600 acres of those surrounding public lands. It also assists wildlife managers with over-objective elk populations in Hunting District 319 since the new access point helps hunters into areas previously difficult to reach because of steep terrain.

Wildlife-friendly fencing allows animals to freely move across a landscape that also includes vital riparian habitat supplied by Johnson Creek, a tributary of the Big Hole River providing spawning areas for trout, which crosses the property.

The Johnson Creek project is 15 miles from the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area, where RMEF carried out several land conservation and access projects as well as other RMEF work in the Big Hole Valley.

Courtesy of RMEF

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