State issues decision notice on Spotted Dog acquisition

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Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) announced early this week it intends to move forward on a $16.6 million purchase of 27,616 acres in the Spotted Dog complex east of Deer Lodge. The Decision Notice, released Aug. 2, recommends that the FWP Commission approve the acquisition during its meeting Aug. 5. However, the public comment period on FWP's request for funding through the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) does not end until Aug. 9, and the acquisition still needs approval from the Montana Board of Land Commissioners before FWP can make a purchase offer to the Rock Creek Cattle Company.

FWP has repeatedly defended its rush to approve the purchase before its funding from the NRDP is even confirmed, stating that a buyer from the private sector could beat the agency to the sale and subdivide the property. If the state is successful in acquiring the land, FWP intends to designate it a Wilderness Management Area and provide for seasonal public access for hunting.

But the Spotted Dog acquisition proposal has generated mixed sentiments among the public, as evidenced by the public comments on FWP's Environmental Assessment:

"I am opposed to purchasing the Spotted Dog Ranch using money from Natural Resource Damage Program," reads one comment critical of the deal. "I suggest FWP find other funding sources to purchase this property but at a better price. I believe FWP is using the imposed 'deadline' as ploy to push this purchase through. NRD money should only be used for restoration projects in the Clark Fork Basin and unfortunatley this proposal has nothing to do with restoration."

And one in strong support: "As a water resource professional and a sportsman I fully support the FWP’s purchase of the Spotted Dog Ranch through the NRD program. Over the last couple years I have had the opportunity to visit the Spotted Dog Ranch in evaluating water quality for the State of Montana. The ranch is truly an extraordinary piece of land and will be a tremendous asset for the people of Montana and in promoting the health of the Upper Clark Fork Watershed."

The FWP Commission will address the Decision Notice today, and we'll follow up with more as the agency moves closer to making an outright purchase offer.

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