MISSOULA, Mont.—Wolf Mountain Ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo., has long been noted as a critical migration corridor for one of Colorado’s preeminent elk herds. Ranch owners yesterday completed a deal to permanently protect 1,330 acres through a conservation easement with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF).

The easement ensures the future of the ranch’s wildlife habitat by restricting development even if land ownership changes.

Each fall, the Bears Ears elk herd, one of Colorado’s largest at 23,000 head, leaves summering areas high in the Park Range and Elkhead Mountains and crosses Wolf Mountain Ranch en route to wintering areas 60 miles to the west. Some elk inhabit the 19,000-acre ranch year round. The property’s mix of sagebrush, mountain shrub, open grassland and aspen and mixed conifer forest also is home to Columbian sharptail and greater sage grouse, mule deer, bear and many other game and nongame species.

The ranch, 18 miles west of Steamboat Springs, participates in Colorado’s Ranching for Wildlife program and is utilized by public hunters each year.

“Wolf Mountain Ranch also is a working cattle operation. We’re pleased to help ensure the future of its agricultural heritage as well as its wildlife values,” said Brandon Hoffner, lands program manager for RMEF. “This easement helps guarantee the Bears Ears elk herd will be around to hunt and enjoy for generations to come.”

Funding partners in the project include the ranch owners, Pirtlaw Partners, Ltd., along with the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights Program, Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) and RMEF.

Monitoring of conservation easement provisions will be shared by CDOW and RMEF.

Hoffner added that RMEF has been selected to hold future easements on Wolf Mountain Ranch (RMEF now holds four conservation easements in the area), if funding for the projects can be obtained. Approximately 6,092 acres of the ranch are protected through easements with The Nature Conservancy. The new 1,330-acre project brings total protected acreage to 7,422, or about 39 percent of the entire ranch.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.9 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.

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