MISSOULA, Mont.—A 120-acre tract of wildlife and riparian habitat in western Montana, under threat of development, is now permanently protected and open to public access thanks to timely collaborative work by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners.
“This project is a big win for a multitude of reasons,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “It’s a win for elk and other wildlife. It’s a win for multiple-use and it’s a win for everyone seeking better access to our public lands.”
The property is located immediately to the north of the Bass Creek Recreation Area (BRCA) between Missoula and Hamilton. It lies at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains, borders Sweeney Creek and is approximately two miles east of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. It is also surrounded on three sides by the Bitterroot National Forest while a five-acre subdivision lies immediately to the east.
“This project maintains habitat values and prevents fragmentation of vital habitat for elk and other wildlife,” said Larry Irwin, RMEF board member who lives nearby in the Bitterroot Valley. “It also enhances recreation activity in the popular Bass Creek area and prevents the conversion of a non-motorized trail into a permanent vehicle route.”
A bank previously foreclosed on the land with the intent of selling it on the private market. If that happened, the Bitterroot National Forest could have been obligated to grant permanent access via the establishment of a motorized road through the property. Instead, RMEF and its partners worked together to purchase the land and convey it to the Bitterroot National Forest, thereby placing it in the public’s hands.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment for the Forest Service, our partners, and most of all, public land users,” said Tami Sabol, Stevensville District ranger. “The close proximity of the Bass Creek Recreation Area to Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley make it one of the most popular areas on the Bitterroot National Forest, providing a quality ‘backyard community’ recreation experience.” Sabol also emphasized “this purchase consolidates existing federal ownership and provides connectivity across the Bass Creek, Larry Creek, and Sweeney Creek watersheds, which is a fantastic benefit for wildlife.”
The property is important winter range for elk and mule deer and is also home to whitetail deer, turkey and other bird and mammal life.
The BCRA is used by approximately 60,000 people each year for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking and other recreational pursuits. The acquisition provides improved access to adjacent public land and to Sweeney Creek.
“Farmers State Bank is so excited to partner with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Forest Service to provide a new outdoor recreational area in the Bitterroot Valley. Working with the RMEF and Forest Service to bring this project to fruition is a great example of community involvement and is one of the many reasons Farmers State Bank is proud to call Western Montana home,” said Kay Clevidence, Farmers State Bank president.
Funding for the project came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Priority Recreational Access program, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Torstenson Family Endowment, National Wild Turkey Federation, Mule Deer Foundation, Bitterroot Backcountry Horsemen and Farmers State Bank.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded over 30 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of nearly 235,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 7.6 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 www.rmef.org, elknetwork.com or 800-CALL ELK.