Several partnering organizations have finalized a deal to ensure the future of wildlife habitat and public access on 1,920 acres along pristine Tenderfoot Creek in central Montana.
The lands, now part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, were previously part of the Bair Ranch. The Bair Ranch Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Tenderfoot Trust and U.S. Forest Service worked together to transfer the property.
Sections of the Bair Ranch are intermingled with federal lands in a checkerboard pattern. The partners have been working for several years to consolidate lands into public ownership. Larger contiguous blocks of ownership help avert long-term habitat fragmentation, which is critical for elk and other wildlife, resource managers and hunters. All together, 3,400 acres now have been moved into public ownership. The partners will continue to work toward acquisition of the remaining 4,800 acres of the ranch.
Most funding for the project has come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), with $4.1 million allocated so far. The fund uses no taxpayer dollars, but rather royalties from offshore energy development. Congress appropriates LWCF funds.
Additional support has come from RMEF donors, members and volunteer-hosted events, together with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Cinnabar Foundation.
President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget includes $3 million to help with future phases of the Tenderfoot project, but the final figure will depend on Congressional approval.
Public support is very high. The White Sulphur Springs community, Meagher County commissioners, Gov. Schweitzer, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and more than 30 conservation groups endorse the effort. Montana’s congressional delegation also has supported the project.
RMEF President and CEO David Allen said, “We tip our hat to everyone involved in this project. This is a model cooperative effort for habitat conservation and an historic opportunity to permanently open 8,200 acres for public hunting and other recreation.”
Wayne Hirsch of the Bair Ranch Foundation board said, “I applaud all the partners in this effort and recognize the progress that has been enjoyed to date. The commitment and dedication to this project we have witnessed by many parties will continue to be necessary to see it through completion. The long-term permanent value of conserving this natural resource continues to be recognized and understood by the Bair Ranch Foundation.”
Mitch Godfrey, president of the Tenderfoot Trust, said, “The Bair Ranch Foundation is great because they agreed to work with us over a period of years while we gathered funding to protect these lands permanently. We appreciate having this opportunity.”
District Ranger Carol Hatfield of the White Sulphur Ranger District, Lewis and Clark National Forest, said, “We’re grateful to the Bair Ranch Foundation for making the property available to the public. The acquisition of these lands would not be possible without the support of the public and the hard work of our partners.”
Tenderfoot Creek, a tributary of the scenic Smith River, cascades down 3,200 feet of elevation through classic elk country of the Little Belt Mountains. Conifer forests, aspen stands, grass meadows and high alpine basins are home to mule deer, moose, black bear, many species of birds and a host of other wildlife.