Conservation Easement Protects Montana Elk Habitat

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A conservation easement that protects 207 acres used by wintering elk on a ranch in the Upper Miller Creek drainage outside Missoula has been completed.

Spooner Creek Ranch owners Denny and Becky Anderson completed a two-year process last week by signing agreements that protect a major elk migration path between the Bitterroot Valley and calving areas to the north. About 200 elk use the area near Missoula in the winter.

“I don’t know another place a person can drive 25 minutes from town and see elk in the evening,” Denny Anderson said. “The (public) road goes through the ranch, and as you travel up the valley you can see the ranches on both sides. It’s real critical for this area to stay like it is.”

The easement limits future building to two five-acre construction zones and prohibits subdivision of the property. It includes lush pasture and forest and will be overseen by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

“I love it up there,” Anderson said. “My full intention all this time was to put it into a conservation easement. We wanted to keep that Old West atmosphere.”

The Missoula City Council and the Missoula Board of County Commissioners last month both agreed to picking up part of the tab for the $1.8 million conservation easement. The city agreed to add $25,000, while the county kicked in $175,000.

The family contributed the remaining $1.6 million.

The Andersons said they will try to recover some of that contribution through the conservation easement process and property tax credits.

Anderson, a longtime member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said he has killed 35 elk but that he prohibits hunting on his own ranch to give a stress-free winter cover to the herds.

Outside of hunting season, he allows permit hiking and backpacking on the ranch, which contains century-old buildings.

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