11,179 Acres on Big Horn Mt. Protected (WY)

LOVELL, Wyoming, 6/16/2003 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation group, announced today it has acquired the 11,179-acre Devil’s Canyon Ranch in north-central Wyoming, on the western slope of the Big Horn Mountains. The ranch is entirely surrounded by public land, including the Big Horn National Forest, the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area and the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Responding to a request for help from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the local community and working with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and other groups, TPL crafted a deal and raised enough funds to convey 8,200 acres of the ranch to the BLM for permanent protection. The remaining 2,979 acres will be held by TPL until they can be transferred later to the BLM.

Funding for the Devil’s Canyon project, which is a top national priority for the BLM, was secured through a $4 million congressional appropriation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and a $100,000 donation from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The purchase solves a longstanding public access dispute to more than 20,000 acres of state, BLM and National Forest land popular with sportsmen and recreationists. Access through the ranch was blocked several years ago by a road closure that eventually became the subject of a U.S. District Court case. Big Horn County Commissioners had sued the owners of the Devil’s Canyon Ranch to gain road access, but lost. With the BLM taking full ownership of the disputed road, the gateway to these cherished public lands has been permanently opened for public use.

U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, (R-WY) championed the public access effort by obtaining federal funding. Thomas said the local leadership of the county commissioners was central to the purchase. “The driving force to this opportunity was to make a significant public place accessible again to the public. In an effective partnership with the local community, Congress and TPL, we solved a big roadblock, literally. I’m so pleased that Wyoming people will have the chance to experience this wonderful property and the public land around it again. The resources are worth protecting, and the public access was worth fighting for.”

The ranch, with its sheer rock walls and panoramic views of the Big Horn Basin, offers some of the state’s most spectacular scenery. It provides critical wildlife habitat and, like much of the surrounding public land, may contain significant archaeological sites and artifacts.

The prospect of putting the ranch into public ownership was first raised by the Big Horn County Commission almost two years ago. Commissioner Keith Grant, who spearheaded the county’s efforts to keep the disputed road open to the public, praised TPL’s purchase, saying: “After many years of conflict and tensions, we have finally found a win-win solution for the long-standing public access issue on Little Mountain. We applaud TPL’s efforts and are particularly thankful for Senator Thomas’ unwavering support and his commitment to our local community and the sporting public.”

Alex Diekmann, TPL’s local project manager, agreed and said, “This purchase resolves one of the longest, and most contentious, public access battles in the Northern Rockies. It also conserves critical wildlife habitat, extraordinary scenery, exceptional recreational land and, possibly, undiscovered archaeological and paleontological treasures. This project is consistent with our mission of conserving land for people and protecting places that local communities cherish. We are proud to have led the effort to protect this magnificent landscape today and for generations to come. We are also thankful for the early support that Senator Thomas and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation threw behind this project.”

Backing up his organization’s decision to invest $100,000 in the project, Peter J. Dart, the new President and CEO for the RMEF, said: “Protecting habitat for elk and other wildlife, opening 11,000 acres for hunters, and providing access to another 20,000 acres – the Elk Foundation is proud to be a part of these successes. Projects like Devil’s Canyon Ranch really excite our volunteers, partners, supporters and members. We’re grateful that TPL got the ball rolling.”

Speaking on behalf of the BLM, Cody Field Office Manager Mike Blymyer said: “This is quite a momentous occasion for the residents of Wyoming, particularly for the people of Big Horn County. As a direct result of this timely acquisition, access issues to the Big Horn National Forest and adjacent BLM lands have been forever resolved, and the protection of important wildlife habitat, along with significant cave, cultural and paleontological resources, has been made more certain. I would like to thank TPL, along with Duane Feick and Tamara Gertsch of our realty staff, for helping to make this great project happen.”

“We are extremely pleased that this project is finally becoming a reality,” said Larry Baesler, Executive Director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “As access and hunting opportunities on public land continue to be threatened, seeing more than 11,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat preserved for the public’s enjoyment is indeed cause for celebration.”

Gary Brown, Regional Supervisor for Wyoming Game & Fish, echoed this sentiment and said, “Both the wildlife and sportsmen should benefit greatly with this land in public ownership. The land provides important habitat for many wildlife species, from sage grouse to elk. With it in public ownership, habitat improvements will be easier to accomplish. On behalf of all sportsmen, we’d like to thank TPL, BLM, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and all the other people involved for making this great project possible.”

Senator Mike Enzi, (R-WY) and Rep. Barbara Cubin, (R-WY) also worked for passage of Thomas’ $4 million LWCF appropriation.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization, conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has protected over 1.5 million acres nationwide with a value of more than $2 billion. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our mission. Northern Rockies projects include protection of Garnet Ghost Town, Lindbergh Lake, the Swan River Valley, Thompson and Fisher River Valleys, waterfowl habitat at the Blasdel National Wildlife Refuge, and National Forest lands north of Yellowstone National Park. TPL has offices in Bozeman and Helena, Montana.

High quality color photos of the Devils Canyon Ranch are available by calling Matthew Shaffer at (415) 495-4014, ext. 316.