June 20, 2008

Group Gives OK for Purchase

By Erin Nicholes, The Montana Standard, Butte

Jun. 20--ANACONDA -- The state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission has given the nod to a 300-acre purchase west of town, aimed at protecting habitat and access.

The commission approved the purchase of 296 acres adjoining the 1880s Ranch, off North Cable Road, a news release said.

If all goes as planned, FWP will close on the first phase of the purchase this spring and the remaining land next winter, said Ray Vinkey, area FWP biologist.

"It is critical winter range for elk and bighorn sheep (and) part of a key 2-mile long corridor of important wildlife habitat between Blue-eyed Nellie and Levengood gulches," he said. "The area is facing rapid residential development and this parcel is especially important to protect." The property will be managed as part of the Blue-eyed Nellie Wildlife Management Area. It will provide access to Forest Service land on Stucky Ridge.

County officials welcomed news of the FWP commission's approval of the purchase.

"Protecting and acquiring those lands is a really important thing for Anaconda because it maintains a wildlife corridor which is responsible for an awful lot of tourism dollars," said county chief executive Rebecca Guay.

FWP expects to close on the first 220 acres -- using $773,000 from the agency and the American Land Conservancy -- by June 30. The remaining 76 acres, which FWP plans to acquire using $262,500 in Natural Resource Damage Program grants, will close in January, Vinkey said.

In addition, the Montana Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, the Five Valley Chapter of the Safari Club and the Anaconda Wildlife Expo also donated money. The Five Valleys Land Trust helped facilitate the project.

The total 296 acres consist of a long bench and unnamed drainage between Levengood and Stucky gulches, an area framed by the red rocks along Stucky Ridge and the West Valley, Vinkey said.

"The land was under imminent threat of subdivision by a private owner," he said.

Most county officials supported the purchase, although some commissioners and members of the public have expressed concern that the county's growing percentage of public lands will leave it with few places for growth and development.

But Guay said the area has plenty of room for growth in areas that are not crucial to big-game habitat.

"There are other places that are better suited for development," Guay said. "I think it's a good thing to protect that area." Reporter Erin Nicholes may be reached at [email protected]


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