HELENA – The commission that oversees the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks agreed Thursday it would be a good idea to buy a 28,000-acre ranch near Deer Lodge for hunting, fishing and recreation.
The agency says it presents a unique opportunity to put prized habitat for elk and other animals into public ownership before it is potentially closed off to recreation by new owners.
The $16.5 million to buy and maintain the Spotted Dog Ranch would come from the state Natural Resource Damage Program. That group, which manages money aimed at replacing resources lost to mining in the Upper Clark Fork basin, will vote later this month on funding the purchase.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has already voiced support for the plan, will have the final say.
The FWP said the property is home to more than 1,000 elk, and has even seen an occasional grizzly bear. The land is bordered on two sides by national forest land and is intermingled with school trust lands for a total of about 38,000 acres.
The property is owned by the Rock Creek Cattle Co., although RY Timber also has a stake in what is a fairly complicated real estate deal.
Opponents have said the deal is being rushed and will result in a windfall for the owners. Some have opposed the notion of more land going into government ownership.
FWP director Joe Maurier defended the deal against criticism, pointing out the pot of money that would be paying for the deal still has $160 million in it for projects in the region. He said purchasing the land is a good way to replace resources lost in other ways to past mining activity and damage.
He said several steps still exist to make sure the deal is a good one.
“The governor gets to make the final call on anything that is done, and he can also change anything we do, or modify anything that we do,” he said.
He said it’s a good price for the land, and is based on a fair appraisal.
“From a fish and wildlife perspective, this is a heck of an opportunity,” said FWP commissioner Dan Vermillion. “From a long-term perspective, the people of Montana, the future generations of Montana, are getting a great deal.”
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