Deal protects elk habitat on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front

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Four bull elk gather in a field along Highway 206 south of Columbia Falls on Thursday, Aug. 8. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recently brokered a land transaction that will permanently protect 442 acres of wildlife and riparian habitat near Augusta along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.

According to the Elk Foundation, the Falls Creek project improves access to more than 26,000 acres of public land containing prime elk habitat beyond it.

“This is a major conservation accomplishment on so many fronts and we are ecstatic about it,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “Our goal was to raise nearly $2.5 million dollars over a relatively short period of time and a lot of good folks stepped up to make it happen. And all this transpired in time for the 2019 general big game hunting season.”

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation worked in coordination with Lewis and Clark County, the Dan Barrett family, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and other partners.

The property is primarily forestland and grassy meadows. It is located about 30 miles southwest of Augusta. Its entire eastern boundary is bordered by more than 1 mile of Falls Creek, including the scenic Falls Creek waterfall at the back of the acreage, while the western and northern boundaries are bordered by private lands and the Dearborn River.

“This landscape provides quality habitat for many species of wildlife including elk, whitetail deer, grizzly and black bears, and mountain lions,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “It’s also important spring, summer and fall range for elk in a hunting district (HD 422) where the population is well over objective, in part, because gaining access has been so difficult for a long time.”

The previously inaccessible Falls Creek trailhead and trail open to the public on August 28 and will provide access for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding and other non-motorized travel and recreational use.

RMEF brokered the transaction and conveyed the 442 acres to the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Organizations that provided project funding include the Lewis and Clark County Open Lands Program, RMEF, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Bass Pro Shops, The Conservation Fund, Safari Club International - Great Falls Chapter, The Conservation Alliance and the Mule Deer Foundation. Many private individuals also contributed.

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