Critical Yellowstone Lands Protected (MT)

BOZEMAN, MONTANA – The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation group, announced today that it has permanently protected almost 1,300 acres of prime elk and grizzly bear habitat northwest of Yellowstone National Park, in the Gallatin National Forest.

The deal, completed yesterday, is the first phase of a two-year purchase that will ultimately protect 3,246 acres of land which is now privately owned in the Taylor Fork drainage, one of Montana’s most scenic wildlife and recreation areas. The land is being conveyed to the Forest Service for addition to the Gallatin National Forest. Funding for the conservation purchase, a top national priority for the US Forest Service and the Bush administration, was secured thanks to the leadership of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), the ranking Republican member of the Senate’s Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

“This purchase resolves one of the longest, and sometimes most contentious, land use battles in the West,” said Alan Front, TPL’s Senior Vice President. “It has been an enormous effort by a lot of people, but it shows that when people are willing to sit down and work hard, we can resolve these issues.”

Alex Diekmann, TPL’s local project manager, noted the Taylor Fork is a primary calving ground for the Gallatin elk herd and also provides critical habitat for grizzly bears, which have been known to produce litters as big as three or four cubs – something that seldom occurs elsewhere in the Yellowstone region. He also noted the area is a favorite haunt of sportsman and outdoor enthusiasts.

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

The acquisition by the Forest Service is being funded through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Last year, in response to a request from the Montana delegation led by Sen. Burns, Congress appropriated $3.0 million for the first phase of the purchase.

Sen. Burns commented, “I am glad my work on the Appropriations Committee has secured the funds to improve opportunities for sportsmen and elk and grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowstone area. This is important land for all Montanans and I am glad to see its wildlife and recreational areas preserved.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, “I congratulate the Trust for Public Land for the purchase of Taylor Fork, which will protect almost 1,300 acres and insure that folks have access to these lands for hunting and fishing for many years to come. I’ll continue to work together in Congress and with groups like the Trust for Public Land to insure that we have wide open access to our great outdoors.”

Becki Heath, Supervisor of the Gallatin National Forest, said, “This purchase represents the culmination of many years of effort by many people to acquire and conserve critical private lands in the Taylor Fork. I want to acknowledge the leadership and energy of TPL in pulling together this difficult and complex project. I also want to thank David Brask and the other owners for their cooperation and patience as we moved through this process.”

Kurt Alt, biologist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, emphasized, “The Taylor Fork is one of the most precious wildlife areas in the entire Yellowstone area. Losing it to subdivision would have been tragic. As a biologist, hunter and outdoor enthusiast, I applaud everything TPL and the Forest Service have done to make this happen.”

Randy Newberg, co-founder of the Headwaters Fish and Game Association, agreed. “As hunters and anglers, we are very pleased that the long and difficult process of consolidating the private checkerboard lands on the west side of the Gallatin National Forest is finally coming to an end. This is one of the true treasures of the Yellowstone region both in terms of habitat and public access. What has been done for wildlife and wildland advocates in the Taylor’s Fork should serve as an example of what can be accomplished when all parties, private and public, work toward the common goal of habitat protection. Considering all the obstacles that have been overcome, protecting the Taylor’s Fork is a truly remarkable achievement, worthy of the efforts put forth.”

Bill Murdock, Chairman of the Gallatin County Commission, said, “The Taylor Fork is one of our county’s most fabulous and treasured resources. Seeing it protected is something that all of us have long been waiting for.” Michael Scott, Executive Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition said, “The final piece of the Taylor Fork land exchange provides exceptional, secure habit for many species in this vital part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Beginning with the Gallatin exchange ten years ago, the culmination of this effort has been a real win for both the wildlife and people of Montana.”

The land conveyed to the Forest Service yesterday was purchased by TPL almost two months ago. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation provided interim financing for the purchase, along with additional acreage TPL will hold until next year. Last year, TPL received a $1.8 million grant from the foundation to help fund its Yellowstone work. TPL is thankful for the foundation’s generosity and continued support.

TPL also acknowledged the work of other conversation groups, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Diekmann said, “Our purchase would not be as meaningful or important if so many people hadn’t done so many good things over the years. Everyone in the local conservation community deserves a big pat on the back.”

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. Projects in Montana 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.