July 21, 2022
Chair Robinson, Vice Chair Tabor, Commissioners Waller, Byorth, Walsh, Cebull & Lane
Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks
1420 East Sixth Avenue
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, Mt 59620-0701
Re: the Big Snowy Mountains WMA Acquisition
Chair Robinson; Vice Chair Tabor, Commissioners Waller, Byorth, Walsh, Cebull and Lane:
On behalf of roughly 3,000 dues-paying members in the Big Sky state, please consider the below comments from the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers re: the Big Snowy Mountains WMA Acquisition, and our full and enthusiastic support of this purchase.
Our members value wild places, public access, quality habitat and the fair-chase hunting and fishing opportunities these things provide. It should come as no surprise then how excited we are for this potential acquisition and creation of a new Wildlife Management Area in one of the most elk-rich and access-poor areas of the state. We voiced our support when this proposal was in front of the Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2020, during the Department’s EA, and here we are again offering our support.
And we're not alone. During the EA, FWP received 107 public comments; 97 percent of those supported this acquisition.
The EA prepared by the Department showed very few and very minor negative impacts from this purchase proposal, while the benefits are enormous. The property is not farmed, nor does it consist of any crop land; it's native prairie grassland offering prime habitat for a wide variety of wildlife including elk, black bear, mule deer, pronghorn - all things are members take great value in - plus "at least 22 animals listed as species of concern," according to the Department. In other words, preserving this landscape would offer both sporting opportunity and important biological value.
The 5,677 acres in question north of Ryegate and at the base of the Big Snowy Mountains consist of roughly 2,500 forested acres and 3,177 acres of prairie rangeland, an ideal mix for big game habitat and winter range. Adjacent to the north of this property is BLM’s Twin Coulee Wilderness Area and the US Forest Service’s Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area. Adding this WMA would create a wild land and wildlife-rich complex of more than 100,000 acres, with even more public lands to the northwest.
The other two-thirds of the property are bordered by private parcels owned by out-of-state absentee landowners; public hunting on adjacent properties is rarely allowed, according to FWP's press release. Situations like these are likely a big reason why the hunting area this property resides in - district 535 - is significantly over the stated elk management objectives. Preserving this property and opening it to public hunting will not only provide incredible opportunities for Montana hunters, but it will also help with elk management concerns in the area.
The purchase price of approximately $8.22 million is money well spent, and money that's available for exactly this sort of project. 75 percent of the purchase price will be covered by the Federal Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration funds, which comes from excise taxes on hunting and shooting equipment, while the remaining 25 percent will come from Habitat Montana, the state's premiere funding mechanism for habitat conservation and public access work. Habitat Montana is funded by sportsmen and women from our hunting license sales, and hunters show up in Helena session after session to express their support for the program and what it funds. Projects like the one before us in the Big Snowy Mountains are shining examples of why hunters are so fond of this Habitat Montana program and happy to contribute to it.
We would like to thank Shodair Children's Hospital for their original vision and generosity which got this ball rolling. Our appreciation extends to our friends at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as well for helping usher this project through.
In closing, this project speaks to all things Montana BHA cares deeply about and we support it with great enthusiasm; we cannot think of a better use for federal PR dollars or Habitat Montana funds than a project like this that will have significant and lasting impacts for wildlife, for habitat and for the sportsmen and women of Montana. We strongly agree with FWP's recommendation that 'the commission approve FWP purchasing approximately 5,677 acres in the foothills of the Big Snowy Mountains,' and we ask that the Commission give this your full blessing.
Doug Krings, Lewistown, MT
Regional Board Member
Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers