Greater Yellowstone Lands Protected
The U.S. Forest Service and a national land conservation group have completed the purchase of 3,400 acres in the Taylor Fork drainage northwest of Yellowstone National Park.
The tract, which is considered prime recreation land and key elk and grizzly bear habitat, is one of the last, large remaining blocks of unprotected private land in Gallatin National Forest.
“The Forest Service has been working on this acquisition for 14 years,” said Becki Heath, forest supervisor for the Gallatin National Forest. “The public, as well as the resource, will benefit greatly from this transaction.”
The purchase resolves one of the “longest and most challenging land use controversies in the Greater Yellowstone area,” said Alex Diekmann, project manager for the Trust for Public Land (TPL) the conservation group involved in the deal.
The west side of the Gallatin National Forest used to be a “checkerboard” pattern of private land holdings – a legacy of the 19th century federal policy of granting large quantities of land to the railroads to encourage development.
The deal does more than protect key wildlife habitat – it solves a longstanding public access dispute in the nearby Buffalo Horn drainage, which can only be accessed by driving through ranch property also owned by the sellers.
At the urging of the Forest Service, TPL convinced the sellers to grant a permanent easement to the United States as part of the overall purchase, allowing the agency to construct a new road through the ranch.
“I can think of no other drainage in the Greater Yellowstone area that provides such high quality fish and wildlife habitat and so many different recreational opportunities,” said Kurt Alt, regional wildlife manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Losing the Taylor Fork to subdivision would have been tragic, not only for wildlife but also for those of us who go there to fish and hunt and to simply enjoy the splendor of one of our state’s most pristine areas.”
Last year, TPL acquired the first 1,268 acres and conveyed them to the United States for their permanent protection – the Forest Service took title on the other 1,978 acres on Friday.
A total of $9.4 million was provided by Congress and The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as part of its Greater Yellowstone Land Conservation Initiative, provided interim financing.
The conservation group and the Forest Service praised Montana Senator Conrad Burns, a Republican, for spearheading efforts to get the $9.4 million in funding from the U.S. Congress for the deal.
“This purchase preserves one of our state’s most important wildlife areas and greatly improves access for sportsmen and the recreating public,” Burns said. “Our open spaces in Montana make the ‘big sky’ state what it is.”
Provided by theEnvironmental News Service.