Hunters and anglers across Montana can now celebrate the acquisition of more than 21,400 acres in conservation easements by the Dept of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks (FWP). This week, the Fish and Wildlife Commission endorsed the Lone Tree, Ash Coulee, and W-Bar easements thereby protecting critical wildlife habitat in perpetuity.
Collectively these conservation easements permanently protect critical habitat for mule deer, antelope, and upland game birds in addition to numerous non-game species. These projects – located in Blaine, Valley, and Wilbaux counties – each have their individual characteristics, however, they are all immeasurably valuable for wildlife and public access in eastern Montana.
In Blaine County, the Lone Tree easement consists of shrub and prairie grasslands intermixed with forested breaks on 11,285 acres leading to the Missouri River. Iconic game species such as bighorn sheep and elk frequent this diverse landscape and provide excellent hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities.
The Ash Coulee easement located in Valley County, while similar to Lone Tree, is smaller at 3,400 acres yet it protects critical prairies and breaks along the Milk River. The Milk River Valley is a quintessential eastern Montana landscape and this easement will protect the amazing wildlife viewing, hunting, and recreation opportunities found there.
Finally, the W-Bat easement in Wilbaux County totals out at 6,751 acres of native grasslands, shrublands, riparian areas, and hardwood draws. Situated firmly along the state line with North Dakota, this area supports deer, antelope, upland game birds, and even the occasional elk. Habitat for 24 non-game Species of Greatest Conservation Concern is found here as well as a high-quality warm-water fishery.
These projects are all made possible due to the essential funding from Habitat Montana as well as the strong partnership between hunters and landowners. While these lands will remain in private ownership as working agricultural sites, they will also provide public access to a region of Montana with far fewer public lands. It’s a win-win that shows how important conservation easements, Habitat Montana funding, and hunter/landowner relationships are to Montana’s outdoor way of life.