The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recently purchased 40 acres of private property that will open 18,000 acres for public access to the Big and Little Snowy Mountains inside Lewis and Clark National Forest.
"Access was very limitedexcept for the majority of landowners and outfitters surrounding it," says Fish, Wildlife and Parks Regional Supervisor Gary Bertellotti.
Before the acquisition, the lands were surrounded by private properties and effectively sealed off from the public. The isolation essentially allowed outfitters and landowners exclusive access to that part of the mountains and the 4,200 elk that inhabit it.
"That's more than twice our target population in that management unit," Bertellotti says.
The agency relies on sportsmen to control game populations, but there weren't enough hunters accessing the Snowy Mountains to impact the elk herd, until now.
"That was why [this land] became such a high priority," Bertellotti says.
The property RMEF purchased shares a corner with the 18,000 acres. As the law currently stands, a corner isn't enough to be considered a legal access point in Montana, but a set of rare circumstances give this one 30 feet of overlap.
"It's what you would call a correction corner. Since the world isn't flat, they occasionally did overlaps on the township and range boundaries to compensate," says Mike Mueller, RMEF lands program manager for Montana. "I've never seen one like this before. Sometimes you get lucky like this."
RMEF purchased the 40 acres for $190,000 after a couple members made the foundation aware of its availability. RMEF is selling the land to FWP for $50,000.
"They'd been hunting this land for years," Mueller says of the members who approached the foundation. "They knew the landowners and fortunately the landowners wanted to create public access."
Bertellotti says FWP plans on making the purchase, but it needs to be approved by the FWP Commission and the Montana Land Board. In the meantime, RMEF and FWP have an agreement in place to provide the public an entrance, parking area and a defined access trail into the forest. The goal is to open the area before Oct. 26, the first day of rifle hunting season.