Missoula, Mont.–A 10-year conservation project has concluded in the Black Hills of South Dakota with 2,400 acres of wildlife habitat now permanently protected and opened for public hunting. The effort was led by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

It is the largest land acquisition to date in the Black Hills by a conservation organization in partnership with the Black Hills National Forest.

The project’s seventh and final acquisition phase on Sept. 15, 2011, moved the final 285 acres of Bill and Deena Whitlow’s former Lady C Ranch into public ownership as part of the national forest.

“The Whitlows could have sold their ranch to real estate developers for more money and a lot less time, but it was the family’s dream to save this historic landscape for its rich wildlife diversity and scenic beauty. We’re grateful to the Whitlows for their amazing patience, vision and selflessness,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO.

Allen thanked the U.S. Forest Service and its many dedicated staff who worked on this project over the years. RMEF volunteers, donors, members and staff also were instrumental.

Allen credited South Dakota senators Tim Johnson and John Thune, and former representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, for their longtime support in securing vital funding for the project through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund utilizes no taxpayer dollars, but rather permit fees from offshore energy development.

The former Lady C Ranch shares boundaries with the Black Hills National Forest and Wind Cave National Park. Its rolling terrain features ponderosa pine forests mixed with grasslands. There are deep ravines with oak, green ash, shrubs and many water sources including several springs. The Whitlows were outstanding stewards and worked hard to improve habitat. During their 19-year ownership, the property enjoyed significant increases in numbers of elk and other wildlife.

The new public acreage will be an asset to agencies working to manage and maintain elk populations in the region.

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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