Missoula, Mont.–An ongoing project to conserve habitat and secure public access for the future has reached 1,480 total acres along central Montana’s Tenderfoot Creek.

A coalition of partners including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Bair Ranch Foundation, Tenderfoot Trust and U.S. Forest Service on Sept. 21 moved two tracts totaling 320 acres into public ownership as part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

The project’s first phase in 2010 conveyed 1,160 acres to the national forest.

All together, 8,200 acres are planned for the Tenderfoot project.

The project will help square up checkerboard ownership patterns between the area’s private and public landowners. Larger contiguous blocks of ownership help avert long-term habitat fragmentation. Better for fish and wildlife, better for resource managers, better for anglers and hunters.

RMEF President and CEO David Allen said, “The Tenderfoot area is an elk hunter’s dream–but it’s also a real estate developer’s dream. It’s a prime place to be subdivided for trophy home or cabin sites and we would rather that did not happen. If everyone can continue to work together to conserve this landscape and secure access for the future, it will be a wonderful gift for our grandkids.”

The project’s first phase in 2010 was helped by a $1.5 million appropriation through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The fund uses no taxpayer dollars, but rather royalties from offshore energy development. This year, with Congressional stalemates and budgetary cutbacks, the Tenderfoot project was passed over for LWCF funding. However, other federal funds and grants, together with RMEF donors, members and volunteers, kept the project moving with a smaller-than-expected second phase.

An RMEF purchase option with the seller extends for two more years.

The seller, Bair Ranch Foundation, is a philanthropic trust of the original property owners who felt the unique landscape should be forever available for public use.

Additional funding has come from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Cinnabar Foundation.

Public support for the project is very high. Meagher County Commissioners, the White Sulphur Springs community, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and various nonprofit organizations have applauded the effort. The entire Montana congressional delegation–Sen. Jon Tester in particular–have supported the project.

Tenderfoot Creek is a tributary of the scenic Smith River, a famous blue-ribbon trout fishery nestled between towering limestone canyon walls. The creek cascades down 3,200 feet of elevation through classic elk country of the Little Belt Mountains. Conifer forests, massive aspen stands, grass meadows and high alpine basins also are home to mule deer, moose, black bear, many species of birds and a host of other wildlife.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. Elk country. RMEF is leading a conservation initiative that has protected or enhanced more than 6 million acres–an area larger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Great Smoky Mountains national parks combined–for elk, other wildlife and hunters. RMEF also is a strong voice for America’s hunting heritage, access, wildlife management and policy issues. RMEF members, partners and volunteers, working together as Team Elk, are making a difference for elk country. Join us at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.

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