Madison River Fly Fishing Landmark Protected (MT)

BOZEMAN, Montana – March 9, 2006 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today that it has just given hunters, fly fishers, wildlife advocates and the recreating public another big reason to celebrate. Just this week, the national land conservation group capped a four-year effort to protect one of the most important wildlife corridors in the Yellowstone region and to secure public hunting and fishing rights to some of the finest big game habitat and fly fishing waters in southwest Montana.

This past summer, TPL purchased a conservation easement on the historic 1,521-acre Olliffe Ranch, which is located on the north side of Highway 287, adjacent to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area and just a few miles west of Quake Lake. Funded through a $2 million congressional appropriation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, TPL transferred the easement to the U.S. Forest Service for long-term monitoring and enforcement.

According to Kurt Alt, Wildlife Manger for Region 3 of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, “what makes this permanent conservation easement particularly important is how it protects a critical wildlife corridor between Yellowstone National Park and the Madison Valley for elk, grizzly bear, antelope and deer; how it provides permanent hunting access to the public; and how it preserves extraordinary scenic values from the Madison River by limiting additional man-made structures – all while allowing the Olliffes to continue traditional ranching activities, as they always have since 1899 when they first homesteaded the land.”

Two months ago, TPL also purchased an adjacent 147-acre parcel owned by Rick and Mary Lee Reese of Salt Lake City and last week conveyed it to the United States for inclusion in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, using another $600,000 appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. According to local District Ranger Mark Petroni, “this final piece of the puzzle will allow the Forest Service to establish a new trailhead, providing hunters and the recreating public with a much needed access point to the nearby Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. I am absolutely thrilled with what has just happened here. This is a real win for wildlife and all Montanans.”

Funding for the project was secured by Senator Conrad Burns (Chairman of the Senate’s Interior Appropriations Subcommittee) with the support of the Montana congressional delegation. “I am extremely pleased to have helped protect this key piece of open space and wildlife habitat,” said Sen. Burns. “I am especially proud to be part of an effort that greatly enhances public access while still allowing traditional ranching to continue. This project has been widely supported by neighbors, local businessmen, sportsmen and the recreating public. I will continue to work hard as Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to make sure that special places like this are protected for future generations.”

As part of the deal, the public has also just been granted permanent walk-in access to more than a one mile-long section of the Madison River that is ranked among the finest fly fishing water in the West and can only be reached on foot, as float fishing is not allowed. The new river trail easement, which will be formally granted to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks this summer, has long been regarded as the missing link between the Three Dollar Bridge access site to the west and the Raynolds Pass access site to the east – both located in the Madison’s most popular stretch, the nine miles between Quake Lake and Lyons Bridge. With this new addition, anglers can now park at either access site and wander a full four miles in search of browns and rainbows that average over 15 inches in length.

“While the Olliffe family has been generous in allowing anglers to pass through their land, this easement guarantees that the public will always have direct access – no matter who owns the property in the future,” says Alex Diekmann, who heads TPL’s Bozeman office and worked closely with the Olliffes over the last few years.

“Making another key stretch of the Madison River permanently accessible to the public is a huge victory for the entire fly fishing community. The Trust for Public Land is a real ally when it comes to protecting our venerable and cherished fly fishing waters,” said R. Peter VanGytenbeek, President and CEO, of the Federation of Fly Fishers.

This section of the Madison – located midway between Ennis and West Yellowstone – not only represents the longest uninterrupted public access anywhere on the Madison, but it also holds the largest concentration of wild trout for the entire length of the river, according to Craig Mathews, the author of Fly Fishing the Madison, co-owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, and local hero who spearheaded the public acquisition of the Three Dollar Bridge access site several years ago.

“This stretch is full of large boulders, slicks, hundreds of productive pockets, a few channels, and a lot of infusion of spring water. It’s also the prime spawning ground for browns in the fall and rainbows in the spring,” he says, noting that the Madison was the birthplace of both catch-and-release and the first wild trout management program in the country.

The new riverfront trail easement was negotiated as part of the larger agreement with the Olliffes that also gives TPL the right to purchase the 385-acre parcel that they own between Highway 287 and the Madison River in the event that they ever decide to sell it.

“Everything we do at TPL revolves around a very simple mission. We call it land for people. It’s all about protecting landscapes that communities and people care about,” says Diekmann. “This project has it all. Not only are we protecting a key part of one of the most critical wildlife corridors in the Greater Yellowstone area, but we are also providing extraordinary hunting and fishing opportunities to the sporting public – all while keeping one of the oldest ranching families in the Madison Valley on the land. This is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Since 1972, The Trust for Public Land has protected over 2 million acres nationwide with a value in excess of $4 billion. In Montana alone, the national non-profit organization has been responsible for conserving more than 175,000 acres. This includes incredible fishing, hunting and recreation land in the Taylor Fork drainage south of Big Sky, the Swan Valley between the Mission and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas and the Thompson and Fisher river drainages northwest of Missoula.