March 28, 2014
RMEF: Land Exchange Falls Short for Elk and Elk Hunters
MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation maintains that elk and elk habitat need to be the major points of focus regarding a proposed land exchange in central Montana involving two major land parcels: one south of Grass Range and one north of the Missouri River in the CMR Monument with additional smaller parcels added in both areas.
Dan and Farris Wilks own large tracts of private land surrounding more than 4,860 acres of landlocked Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tracts in Fergus County, south of Lewistown. They submitted a proposal to the BLM to acquire those lands in exchange for 5,250 acres of land that would provide additional access to the Snowy Mountains and the Upper Missouri River Breaks in Blaine County.
“At the core of this issue, it is more about elk than anything else. What’s at stake here is the vital importance of elk and the ability of state wildlife managers to implement elk management,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “If this exchange goes through, that ability will be further compromised in a hunting district where elk are already well above management objectives.”
“Those Blaine County lands have alternative access options that should not require trading critical elk habitat. RMEF is willing to help finance efforts to improve access as needed in this region. We would like to see a more of an apples-to-apples exchange proposed.” Allen added.
Right now, access to the BLM land is extremely limited, including the 2,785-acre parcel best known as Durfee Hills which contains prime elk habitat and a healthy elk population. Hunters and others currently reach those landlocked parcels by plane or helicopter.
The BLM previously stated its principal motivation in considering the land exchange is the potential to restore improved access to about 50,000 acres of backcountry in the Missouri Breaks. Historic access routes to the Blaine County lands north of the Missouri River go through lands the Wilks offered for exchange.
“This is not a black and white issue and it’s much more than just the amount of acreage or land mass involved. On one hand, we already have access to the Big Snowies and we can improve access to the Breaks, but if this deal goes through we lose a key piece of elk habitat in the Durfee Hills that the public will never get back. If the public is going to trade this amazing elk country, the public should receive a much better deal if any deal is made,” added Allen.
The BLM is preparing an environmental assessment and ask for public comment on the proposed exchange. Go here to view maps and other information.