Tanya Gates: Big Snow Mountains 5,677 acre WMA acquisition benefits wildlife and public land hunters | Columnists


My fondest memories with my family are on a prairie in Eastern Montana. An unusual late-season bugle of a bull elk rings in the distance as I meander my way through the Golden Valley sage. I was following my mom while she pursued a mule deer to feed our family. I grew up hunting the prairies in the forefront of Big Snowy Mountains, off Swimming Women Creek. In the past, my family traded labor to access the former ranch owner’s property along with the land-locked state and BLM lands. I remember my grandfather bringing apples from the Bitterroot valley to share with the local rancher. I asked my grandfather why we didn’t hunt elk in the Big Snowy’s and even back then he said the public land access was limited and it would be tough for my 12-year-old legs.

My experiences in my youth aren’t that much different from kids today who find themselves unable to access public land; we need the Big Snowy WMA now more than ever. The proposed 5,677-acre acquisition located in the shadows of the Big Snowy Mountains and northeast of Harlowton will cost approximately $8.22 million. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks will use Federal Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration funds to cover 75% of the procurement. These funds are derived from excise taxes on hunting and shooting equipment to provide selection, restoration, and enhancement of habitat habitat. The remaining 25% will come from Habitat Montana. Habitat Montana provides essential habitat for habitat and access to outdoor recreation while helping ensure the future of family farming and ranching through the use of hunting license fees to purchase lands and conservation easements. The maintenance of this proposed wildlife management area would be funded by Habitat Montana or Federal Pittman Robertson funds. The allocation of this WMA would keep this land in its native state and create a conductivity with the northerly BLM’s Twin Coulee Wilderness Area and the US Forest Service’s Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area. The Agency also pays property taxes on lands they own.

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The permanent public access this WMA would create for public recreation opportunities is vast. The WMA would open up hiking, wildlife viewing and access to a largely landlocked island mountain range with a healthy elk population. This would allow an opportunity for the public land hunter like myself to manage this elk population with a quality hunt. Hunting remains Montana’s primary conservation management tool and a way of maintaining a healthy vibrant elk population through scientific management

Shodair’s Children Hospital could have probably made more money selling to another out-of-state wealthy landowner, but they worked with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and found a way to improve the quality of life for all Montanans, and our wildlife. As many legacy properties in Montana have been purchased for recreation activities, including big game hunting, public access to the surrounding public lands will continue to become ever more challenging. Now is the time to be visionary and secure this access in perpetuity. I look forward to one day in the very near future enjoying the benefits of this WMA with my boys and again hearing that not-so-distant bugle.

If you feel the same, please consider contacting your commissioner in support of the Big Snowy WMA.

Region 1: Patrick Tabor – commissionerregion1@mtfwp.org

Region 2: Jana Waller – commissionerregion2@mtfwp.org

Region 3: Pat Byorth – commissionerregion3@mtfwp.org

Region 4: KC Walsh – commissionerregion4@mtfwp.org

Region 5: Brian Cebull – commissionerregion5@mtfwp.org

Region 6: Lesly Robinson – commissionerregion6@mtfwp.org

Region 7: William Lane – commissionerregion7@mtfwp.org

Tanya Gates is a designer for the Montana Department of Transportation and an ambassador for the Montana Wildllife Federation.

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