Working farms and ranches are good for our state’s agricultural economy, good for wildlife, good for hunters and ultimately good for Montana.
Keeping traditional farm and ranch families on their land benefits is a tough proposition. Market swings in commodity prices, weather, and development pressures – it all adds up to plenty of reasons why it’s a challenge today. But one tool that gives farmers and ranchers a boost and helps them pass their operations onto future generations is a conservation easement.
One such project just sailed through the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in a unanimous vote to use Habitat Montana funding to purchase a conservation easement. The Horse Creek Complex conservation easement would protect more than 15,000 of ranch land in eastern Montana. And combined with public land that is inside the boundary and adjoins the ranch, nearly 20,000 acres of land would be opened up for public hunting access.
This property is a hunter’s dream. It’s a mix of rolling hardwood draws and native grasslands, badlands, and large-scale sagebrush grasslands. An easement on the property would protect these lands from development, and maintain the incredible habitat that supports an abundance of wildlife.
The ranch holds mule deer and white-tailed deer in the bottoms, antelope, and occasional has elk pass through. It’s excellent habitat for upland game birds, including sage grouse in several areas that includes leks. And it’s strong habitat for numerous non-game species of native wildlife, including songbirds.
That kind of intact, native habitat equals hunting opportunity. The landowners commit to providing 600 hunter days per year, which would open up land in an area that is largely private property and has limited hunting opportunity for the public.
The easement would cost $6.15 million and be funded through a combination of Habitat Montana hunter license fee dollars, as well as federal Natural Resources Conservation Service funds. These are the kind of public investments that support our agricultural economy, our wildlife, and our hunting heritage.
The project comes before the Montana State Land Board on Tuesday, Feb. 20 in Room 303 of the state Capital in Helena.
Read Montana Wildlife Federations comment letter to Gov. Bullock and the Montana State Land Board Members.
Read the Montana Sporting Coalition’s letter here.
Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Gevock is the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation.