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State purchase of land outside Anaconda would improve wildlife habitat
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State purchase of land outside Anaconda would improve wildlife habitat

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Roughly 600 acres of important fish and wildlife habitat just outside of Anaconda could soon find its way into public hands.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been working to conserve the land, which would become part of the adjoining Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area that covers 9,907 acres of grassy hillsides and winter range, along with pockets of timber for thermal cover.

The acquisition, known as the Stumptown Addition after the county road that runs through the property, is located 1.5 miles west of Anaconda. 

“It’s a very exciting project that’s taken several years to put together,” said Randy Arnold, Montana FWP Region 2 supervisor. 

“Its geographic location is well suited for our Wildlife Management Area already out there,” he said. “It makes it easier to manage and easier to access. Because of its proximity from Anaconda, we received a lot of support from the community and sportsmen club.” 

The land, once owned by the Anaconda Copper Company, suffered significant damages to natural resources from decades of mining and smelting activity in the 20th century. 

The parcel features some grassland for winter and summer range, but also “an interesting mix of aspen, deciduous and evergreen trees,” Arnold said. “That diversity of tree species lends itself to supporting a diverse variety of wildlife.” 

Arnold said the Stumptown addition would protect critical winter range for elk and deer, summer range for bighorn sheep, as well as over a mile of important stream and riparian habitat along Warm Springs Creek, which is home to native Westslope Cutthroat and Bull Trout.

“The property crosses Stumptown Road and Warm Springs Creek, so it will provide the public with over a mile of access to the creek,” Arnold said. “The addition also fills out the wildlife management area in a nice way and would provide improved connectivity between high- and low-elevation habitats.”

If this property were not purchased by FWP, the agency expects much of the land would be subdivided and developed as home sites. 

“It is currently at risk for development, and prior to engaging with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, it was subdivided and for sale,” Arnold said. “But none of the subdivided sections were sold, so it’ll still be a contiguous block if it were acquired.”

The parcel has an appraised value of $1,740,600, and funding would come from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Natural Resource Damage Protection Program, and hunter license dollars through FWP’s Habitat Montana Program.

The NRDP would provide the bulk of the funds — at $1.2 million — for the acquisition from a settlement account paid by the legacy owners of the Anaconda and Butte mining operations.

“The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was a primary contributor to this project and took significant lead to get the project underway because they had a close and existing relationship with the property owners,” Arnold said.

He also credited the Anaconda Sportsmen Club also played a critical role in connecting FWP with the community.

Chris Marchion, longtime leader of the Anaconda Sportsman's Club and a Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame member, said the Stumptown addition would “complement our existing public lands and provide valuable access for outdoor recreation in the summer and fall months.”

“There's a portion of it that lies on the north side of the highway that is in that riparian area and that is really significant because even though Warm Springs Creek runs all the way west of Anaconda from Georgetown Lake and through town, not all of it is really accessible to the public,” Marchion said. 

“Some of it's been channelized, so it's not the best fishery. But in this piece of property, the creek is in historical condition and it's a really good fishery and it's so available,” he said. 

Nick Gevock, director of Montana Wildlife Federation, said the Stumptown addition “is just a continuation of decades of conservation.”

Gevock said Marchion’s role, as part of the Anaconda Sportsman’s Club, was instrumental to reaching out to the community for support. He said folks like Marchion understand what the needs are for wildlife habitat and fisheries, as well as the public interest in using that land. 

Marchion said getting local support is a significant part of getting private land ownership to the public’s hands. 

“When private land owners decide to engage with the public, it's a long, complicated process and they're not going to make top dollar,” Marchion said. “The only way private landowners do that is they're motivated, they really believe that they want their property to be in public ownership.”

The final step for FWP to seal the deal is to present the project to the State Board of Land Commissioners. 

“It’s a very important step because the Land Board determines when state agencies can acquire the land,” Arnold said. The Land Board will be hearing the project on Monday, July, 22, he said.

“If approved by the Land Board, FWP would work with landowners to finalize the closing of the property,” he said. “Once the final transfer of the deed takes place, then it would be open to the public, consistent with the Garrity WMA seasonal opening and closing times.”

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Kristine de Leon is a reporter for the Montana Standard, her focus in on natural resource stories.

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