Agreement Would Protect Madison Valley Landmark (MT)

Ennis, Montana, 7/13/2006: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), in partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) and the United States Forest Service (USFS), announced today that it has entered into an agreement with Roger Lang of Bozeman, Montana to conserve over 16 square miles of the well known Sun Ranch located in the upper Madison River Valley.

The Madison River flows for 140 miles from its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park to where it meets the Missouri River near Three Forks, Montana. The Sun Ranch runs along the Madison for 9 miles on the stretch below Quake Lake, some 30 miles south of the town of Ennis. This stretch of the upper Madison River is often considered the birthplace of wild trout management and one of the first places where “catch and release” regulations were adopted in the United States. With four important tributaries of the nearby Madison River flowing through it, the Sun Ranch provides critical brood rearing habitat for various species of trout and other native fish.

The Sun Ranch lies within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), and contains some of the GYE’s most important wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. Situated adjacent to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area and below the towering Taylor-Hilgard peaks of the Madison Range, the ranch provides critical big-game winter range for elk, mule deer, white-tail deer, moose, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Elk herds exceeding 3,000 in number are a common sight on the ranch during the winter and early-spring months. Grizzly and black bear routinely use the property, as do wolverine, pine marten, beaver, bobcat, river otter and mountain lion.

The Sun Ranch comprises just over 18,700 acres. Approximately 6,800 of these acres at the north end of the ranch are already protected by a conservation easement, which is held by The Nature Conservancy of Montana. Almost all of the remaining 11,900 acres are located immediately to the south between Highway 287 and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. The contemplated transaction envisions MFWP and the USFS purchasing two, separate conservation easements on at least 90% of this remaining land, with the remainder subject to deed restrictions mutually agreed upon with the landowner.

Earlier today at its monthly meeting in Helena, MFWP’s five-member, volunteer commission authorized MFWP staff to start working on the project and agreed to set aside up to $4.5 million from the state’s Habitat Montana program to help pay for the proposed easement purchase. Funded with hunter license fees, the Habitat Montana program seeks to preserve and restore important habitat for fish and wildlife and to make prime fishing and hunting areas accessible to the sporting public.

Commenting on the commission’s decision, MFWP’s Wildlife Division Administrator, Don Childress, said: “This is extremely exciting news. Our agency has been working for a very long time, trying to figure out a way to conserve and protect the Sun Ranch. We are especially thankful to TPL and Roger Lang for engaging us early in the process and look forward to crafting a deal that works for everyone involved. Helping to conserve the Sun Ranch for wildlife and the sporting public will undoubtedly rank as one of our agency’s proudest achievements.”While additional funding for the proposed easement purchases will be sought from private sources as well as the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, it is anticipated that the final purchase price will be well below the easement’s appraised fair market value.

“Ensuring that the entire Sun Ranch property is conserved has always been a top land protection priority for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest”, said Deputy Regional Forester Kathy McAllister. “It would be tragic if this property was lost to subdivision and development. Thanks to TPL and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, we now have an opportunity to convert our hopes into reality. Given this strong partnership, the Sun Ranch project will undoubtedly become a regional priority for the Forest Service.”

“As owner of the Sun Ranch, I am very much looking forward to working with TPL, the Forest Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in creating the best example of how public-private entities can work together to find win-win solutions,” stated Roger Lang. “Once completed, this project will not only benefit the spectacular wildlife that inhabits the ranch but also the sporting public. I fully intend to have regulated public access during the general hunting season every year.”

Alex Diekmann, TPL’s Montana project manager, noted: “The Sun Ranch is a valuable and treasured resource. Its wildlife and scenic values are unsurpassed and deserve to be protected. This project will be a real win for Madison Valley residents and for all of us who live in Montana. It demonstrates how different land agencies can leverage each other’s work. We are extremely proud to be working in partnership with the Forest Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and hope that this project will lead to many more collaborative efforts between our respective organizations.”

The Trust for Public Land is a national non-profit land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people. TPL believes that connecting people to land is key to creating livable communities and a healthy environment for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has worked with willing landowners, community groups, and national, state, and local agencies to complete 3,200 land conservation projects in 46 states, protecting more than 2.1 million acres. TPL has helped states and communities craft and pass 353 ballot measures, generating over $19 billion in new conservation-related funding. In Montana, TPL has helped conserve nearly 200,000 acres, including securing public access to more than 220 miles of Montana’s rivers and streams, in places like the Taylor Fork drainage south of Big Sky and the Swan River Valley in northwest Montana. In 2003, TPL purchased the largest single conservation easement in Montana’s history, protecting more than 142,000 acres in the Thompson and Fisher River Valleys west of Kalispell. TPL also assisted in the passage of two $10 million bond measures in Gallatin County to fund the conservation of numerous working farms and ranches throughout the Gallatin Valley. TPL has local offices in Bozeman and Helena.