More Public Lands Means More Access

RMEF Land Donation is Good for Montana, Wildlife

Mike Mueller Specimen Creek
Public lands have been under attack for several years, led by a small but vocal group of state legislators around the West and radical activists who want states to takeover federal public lands.

But while their voice is loud, the vast majority of Montanans and Westerners know that our public lands – state and federal – are the very reason we live in these stunning landscapes. And they’re the places where we all go to hunt, fish and watch wildlife.

In fact, while some people are bashing public lands, sportsmen and sportswomen see the value in adding to them to benefit wildlife and habitat. And sometimes, we get those for free, when a private landowner or conservation group make the choice to make their legacy one of conservation.

That’s happening on a key piece of private land that has been owned by Stimson Lumber Company northwest of Helena with the Specimen Creek addition to the Canyon Creek Wildlife Management Area.

The project would entail a donation of 729 acres by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to add to the existing 2,361 acre Canyon Creek WMA. The project truly has it all: it adds important habitat in a key area that has healthy populations of wildlife, but is also a key wildlife corridor near the Continental Divide. It would greatly increase the contiguous habitat in the area, and opens up public access not only on the land but also to adjoining national forest lands. And it includes a fisheries component, with two streams on the property that feed Canyon Creek and offer the potential for westslope cutthroat trout restoration.

With so much attention in recent years on our public lands, this project also illustrates just how important programs that help us protect and enhance wildlife habitat are. This project has the added benefit of being a donation, with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation offering to give the property to the state to add to an existing wildlife management area. Some lawmakers have expressed opposition, even to donations of land, which is ironic since many of them are often touting private property rights.

But in other cases, a landowner would like to make wildlife habitat part of his or her legacy, yet needs some compensation for it. That’s where Montana’s incredibly popular Habitat Montana program comes in. For two decades Habitat Montana has helped Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks add key parcels to our state’s system of wildlife management areas. It’s helped fund easements that protect working farms and ranches, while providing access for public hunters. And it’s helped leverage federal and private dollars to get these projects done.

Habitat Montana is one of Montana hunters’ greatest achievements, and yet state lawmakers are constantly berating the program and working to kill it. That has to stop.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation deserves credit for working on this key project that will benefit not only elk, but numerous other game and non-game species of wildlife. The Specimen Creek project shows that when conservation partners work together, we can do great things for wildlife, public access and the future of our hunting heritage.

Nick Gevock is the Montana Wildlife Federation’s conservation director.

MWF Specimen Creek Additional Comments