American Prairie buys the Musselshell ranch that BLM had been eyeing | State and regional

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FRENCH BRETT

After a failed Bureau of Land Management purchase in August, nonprofit conservation group American Prairie stepped in to buy the 32,000-acre 73 ranch along the Musselshell River.

The group announced the takeover on Monday. A price was not disclosed. The land adjoins the southern border of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

This latest acquisition brings the total of American Prairie, MT’s notarized and leased properties to over 450,000 acres.

“We are very pleased to add 73 to the habitat base already managed by American Prairie, for the benefit of wildlife and people in perpetuity,” said Alison Fox, CEO of American Prairie, in a statement. “This purchase will strengthen our mission to develop a contiguous habitat area, which is essential to restore ecosystem biodiversity to the prairie. “

Hunters eagerly awaited the BLM’s purchase of the ranch as it would provide access to landlocked public acres containing elk, deer, antelopes and highland birds. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation had worked to connect Homeowners and BLM.

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However, the agency’s purchase was only for 11,000 acres, the ceded portion of the ranch. As part of its deal, the US Fish and Wildlife Service was also considering purchasing 756 acres of the ranch that is within the confines of the refuge.

The 32,003 acre property includes 12,233 surrendered acres and 19,770 acres leased by the state and the federal government.

The BLM withdrew from the purchase when its government-led valuation did not respond to sellers’ price requests.

While the entire ranch is not open to hunters, American Prairie said, after a public access plan was developed, parts of the 73 would be open for recreation, including the 9,300 acres of leased land. The group already offers hunting on its Blue Ridge, White Rock and PN ranches, with more than 69,000 acres enrolled in the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks block management program, which pays landowners to allow hunter access. .

“The Montana Chapter (Backcountry Hunters and Anglers) supports any private landowner who maintains quality wildlife habitat and / or opens public access to private land and / or inaccessible public land,” said Jake Schwaller, Eastern Montana board member for MT BHA, in a statement. “As the demand for hunting grounds is at an all time high, we applaud all efforts by private land owners to create new or improved public hunting opportunities. “

The ranch sits along a five-mile stretch of the Musselshell River which is home to waterfowl and attracts wild turkeys and pheasants.

“We didn’t want to lose a rare opportunity to both conserve critical wildlife habitat and be able to share this special place with the public,” Damien Austin, superintendent of American Prairie, said in a statement. “We have negotiated the fair market value of the property and will pay property taxes that support our local communities, as we do with all of our properties.”

“As we have done with previous land acquisitions, we must first take the time to familiarize ourselves with the property before welcoming the public,” Fox said. “We are excited to add 73 to American Prairie, knowing this creates a valuable opportunity to increase access to public lands, and we know recreationists will be eager to explore the property. “

American Prairie’s plan to provide public access to public lands that were previously landlocked has also garnered praise from other hunting and conservation organizations.

“The Montana Chapter of BHA supports any private landowner who maintains quality wildlife habitat and / or opens public access to private land and / or inaccessible public land,” said Jake Schwaller, board member of BHA. administration of Eastern Montana for MT BHA. “As the demand for hunting grounds is at an all time high, we applaud all efforts by private land owners to create new or improved public hunting opportunities. “

Members of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Montana Wildlife Federation also spoke out in favor of the acquisition, citing American Prairie’s history of public access.

In the meantime, the nonprofit group is still awaiting news from the BLM on its proposal to change grazing leases for its bison herd on a property it leases north of the Missouri River. The proposal was strongly opposed by locals, as well as Governor Greg Gianforte and his Republican administration.

When state opposition was announced, an administrator with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the BLM did not have the authority to grant the nonprofit group a license to graze. bison on federal lands.

The DNRC has announced its intention to conduct its own environmental scan and asked the BLM to put its decision on hold until the state document can be completed. Otherwise, the DNRC asked the BLM to consider the findings of the Montana Environmental Policy Act in a further environmental assessment.


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