3,400 Acres Near Yellowstone Protected (MT)

BOZEMAN, Montana, 7/15/2003 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation group, and the US Forest Service announced today that they have successfully protected almost 3,400 acres of prime elk and grizzly bear habitat and recreation land in the famous Taylor Fork drainage, northwest of Yellowstone National Park.

The deal is the second phase of a two-year purchase, which brings into public ownership one of the last, large remaining blocks of unprotected private land in the Gallatin National Forest. Last year, TPL acquired the first 1,268 acres and conveyed them to the United States for their permanent protection. The bulk of the remaining land was put into public ownership on Friday when the Forest Service took title to another 1,978 acres.

Funding for the conservation purchase, a top national priority for the U.S. Forest Service, was secured thanks to the leadership of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Chairman of the Senate’s Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, the committee that oversees federal acquisitions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“I am extremely pleased to have helped protect this magnificent landscape in the Taylor Fork area,” said Sen. Burns. “This purchase preserves one of our state’s most important wildlife areas and greatly improves access for sportsmen and the recreating public. Our open spaces in Montana make the ‘big sky’ state what it is. This is a momentous occasion for all Montanans, and I am proud to have played a part in protecting this spectacular area for all to enjoy into the future.”

A total of $9.4 million was provided by Senator Burns over a two-year period. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as part of its Greater Yellowstone Land Conservation Initiative, also provided interim financing.

The purchase caps a complicated, decade-long effort to end the “checkerboard” pattern of private land holdings that once dominated the west side of the Gallatin National Forest. This “checkerboard” pattern, which still exists on many other public lands throughout the West, is a legacy of the 19th century federal policy of granting large quantities of land to the railroads as a way to encourage development.

“This purchase resolves one of the longest and most challenging land use controversies in the Greater Yellowstone area,” said Alex Diekmann, TPL’s project manager. “The successful completion of this project proves that even the most difficult and seemingly impossible land conservation problems can be solved when people sit down, roll up their sleeves and doggedly work to find a win-win solution. Everyone who was involved in this complicated project deserves a great deal of credit for their patience, determination and steadfast refusal to quit. We are especially grateful to Senator Burns who has been the driving force behind critical funding for this conservation effort, and we applaud his leadership and commitment, without which we wouldn’t be able to protect great places like this.”

TPL’s purchase also preserves an extraordinarily rich wildlife area where grizzly sows have been known to produce litters as big as three or four cubs – something that seldom occurs anywhere else in the Yellowstone region. The Taylor Fork also provides critical habitat for moose, wolverine and lynx and serves as the primary calving ground for the Gallatin elk herd.

In addition to protecting critical habitat and recreational land, the purchase solves a longstanding public access dispute to the nearby Buffalo Horn drainage, which can only be accessed by driving through the middle of the 320 Guest Ranch – also owned by the sellers. At the urging of the Forest Service, TPL successfully convinced the sellers to grant a permanent easement to the United States as part of the overall purchase. This will allow the Forest Service to construct a new road through the ranch, guaranteeing permanent and uncontested public access to the Buffalo Horn area and thus ending a long-running dispute regarding the legal status of the existing Buffalo Horn Road.

Becki Heath, Forest Supervisor for the Gallatin National Forest, stated, “The Forest Service has been working on this acquisition for 14 years. It has taken patience, persistence, and partnerships to bring it to a close. We appreciate the efforts of the Trust for Public Land, and we thank Senator’s Burns for his help in securing funding for the purchase. The public, as well as the resources, will benefit greatly from this transaction.”

Kurt Alt, Regional Wildlife Manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, praised the project. “I can think of no other drainage in the Greater Yellowstone area that provides such high quality fish and wildlife habitat and so many different recreational opportunities. Losing the Taylor Fork to subdivision would have been tragic, not only for wildlife but also for those of us who go there to fish and hunt and to simply enjoy the splendor of one of our state’s most pristine areas. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Senator Conrad Burns, TPL and everyone else who made this critically important project happen.”

Randy Newberg, co-founder of the Headwaters Fish and Association, agreed. “As hunters and anglers, we are very pleased to see the long and arduous process of consolidating the private checkerboard lands on the west side of the Gallatin National Forest come to an end. We have been waiting for this day for many years. The Taylor Fork is cherished for its beauty, wildlife, recreation and sportsman values. Considering all of the obstacles that had to be overcome, protecting this pure slice of our outdoor heritage is truly a remarkable achievement and is testament to the fact that even the remotest of possibilities can be achieved if all parties set aside their differences and work together to find a win-win solution.”

Michael Scott, Executive Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition echoed that sentiment, saying: “This project marks the end to one of the most significant land conservation efforts in recent memory. This is a real win for wildlife and the people of Montana. We are particularly thankful for Sen. Burns’ unwavering support and his commitment to preserving this special part of the Yellowstone ecosystem and applaud TPL’s unrelenting efforts in this regard.”

Gallatin County Commissioner Bill Murdock, said: “This is an important occasion for the residents of Gallatin County. The Taylor Fork is one of our county’s most fabulous and cherished resources. Its wildlife and recreational values are unsurpassed and deserve to be protected. Thanks to Senator Burns and TPL, we can now drive into the Taylor Fork knowing that it will always look the same.”

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization, conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations. 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 land for people mission. Projects in the Northern Rockies 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.