Making Tabby Mountain Whole
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40 acres protected, 40,000 acres made whole
It’s a piece of crap property in the middle of an outstanding place,” says Bob Hammond, RMEF’s southwest lands program manager. “It could have been subdivided into 5-acre parcels with the flick of a pen, sending out bad ripples in every direction.”
Count on Hammond never to sugarcoat the situation. Blunt as a sledgehammer, he delivers the truth about this 40-acre inholding deep in the heart of Utah’s Tabby Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Actually, Hammond allows, the parcel isn’t all that bad as elk country. It is simply a waterless square of sage grasslands. The value of this acquisition rests not so much in what it preserves as in what it prevents.
“Subdividing it would have just destroyed a big ring of prime habitat and hunting in a treasured place,” Hammond says. At more than 40,000 acres, Tabby Mountain is the state’s largest WMA and provides crucial winter range for upwards of 7,000 mule deer, 3,000 elk and a core population of imperiled sage grouse. For those lucky enough to draw a bull permit in the unit, it also provides one of the more prized hunting opportunities in a state renowned for exceptional elk.
The Division of Wildlife tried to acquire this property for decades, but when it came on the market in 2016, a private buyer immediately made an offer. That deal fell through and DWR leaped to buy it. The landowners, however, doubted DWR’s offer would survive the long and uncertain political path it had to navigate. So Steve Hansen, land and water assets coordinator for DWR, suggested RMEF as a buyer—an idea the landowners enthusiastically embraced.
“The great thing is we have the Torstenson Family Endowment that’s designated for key habitat and access work,” Hammond says. “So when opportunities like this arise, we’re nimble enough to seize them.”
No stranger to Tabby Mountain, RMEF helped fund a 2009 project to slash pinyon-junipers and open up a thousand acres of key sagebrush habitat, then helped clear another 1,900 acres on the WMA in 2014 and plant Wyoming big sagebrush and bitterbrush, vital forage for sage grouse, mule deer and elk. With this acquisition and transfer to the DWR, the Elk Foundation snaps the missing puzzle piece into place and makes a great bunch of elk country whole.