Revenues from Montana’s Mule Deer Foundation License Plates Help Acquire Critical Sportsmen’s Access in Montana

   07.25.14

The Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) and like-minded conservation partners in Montana recently secured access to York Gulch by acquiring 262 acres of private inholdings on the western side of the Helena National Forest. MDF’s Montana chapters worked together to dedicate $25,000 for the project from funding generated by sales of MDF license plates in the state, the revenues from which are dedicated for sportsmen’s access projects. The partners in the project worked together to acquire the only road into the forest along the York Drainage, which was surrounded by national forest on three sides putting it at risk for residential development had it been sold on the open real estate market.

“The York Gulch acquisition will be a remarkable benefit to the outdoors enthusiast in the area because it ensures that we all will have access to some incredible Forest Service land that otherwise could be closed up and untouchable for us,” commented Steve Miller, current MDF Montana state chair and Lewis & Clark chapter chair. “The fact that this is lands that not only benefits those of us that love mule deer but also many other outdoor recreationists makes it an added benefit. This land is in the heart of prime Forest Service land that will be cherished by all who now have access to it through this fabulous acquisition.”

The York Gulch property provides an important connection to the adjacent national forest lands for wildlife including mule deer, elk, bear, mountain lion and moose. In addition, the property has two on-site ponds and wetlands, which are fed by year-round seeps providing important water access for wildlife. The property has experienced a significant increase in use by wildlife since illegal off-road use in the forest has been reduced.

In 2007, the three active MDF chapters in Montana at the time worked together to pool their chapter reward dollars to front the $4,000 cost of establishing a license plate and fulfilling the process set out by Montana’s Department of Transportation. Ray Rugg, past MDF board member who was Western Montana MDF Chapter chair in 2007, along with Dan Dellinger, who was the Montana state chair that year, worked closely with Jennifer Cote, current chair of the Western Montana MDF Chapter, to file the appropriate paperwork and accreditation for the state. All of the chapters agreed that revenues from the sale of the plate would be dedicated for land acquisition or access easements. The York Gulch acquisition was the first property to benefit from the funds.

“When our state chairs worked together to create the MDF license plate here in Montana, we knew that we needed to dedicate money from the sale of the plates for one of the biggest issues facing Montana hunters – access to federal public lands,” said Marshall Johnson, MDF’s regional director in Montana and North Dakota. “The York Gulch project is a perfect example of a project where committed partners worked together to make great things happen. Montanans now have permanent access to the Helena National Forest on a road that could easily have been gated off at any time.”

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