Public comment closes Sept. 27

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – A 400-acre stretch of private land located in the foothills of the Bridger Mountains is currently being considered for a conservation easement by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Named White Deer Meadows by the land owners, this property is located south of North Cottonwood Trail and abuts U.S. Forest Service land and neighboring private property that is already preserved by easements. According to wildlife officials, this area of the Bridger Mountains is critical winter range for mule deer and also provides habitat for a host of other wildlife species.

“The Bridger Mountain mule deer population is pretty special,” said Julie Cunningham, the Bozeman area wildlife biologist for FWP and author of the easement proposal.

“Female mule deer have been coming back to the area for hundreds of years,” she added, describing the deer’s intense site fidelity. “What’s really neat is the land owners recognize the importance of this property. … If we can lock this in with a conservation easement, that would be great. I get really excited about that.”

Cunningham noted that all FWP conservation easements are secured through a partnership with landowners, and FWP was approached by the current property owner for this project.

The proposed easement would prevent subdivision of the land and would also allow for public hunting access during the general hunting season in the fall on approximately 160 acres.

The conservation easement has been valued at $1,862,000, of which the landowners have agreed to donate $100,000. If approved, these funds will be derived from Habitat Montana and possibly mule deer license dollars.

The former is a program that was established by the legislature in 1987 to protect and enhance wildlife habitat. Roughly $3 million are set aside from hunting license revenue each year to be used primarily to secure conservation easements.

The White Deer Meadows proposal was released to the public on Aug. 29 with a 30-day comment period following. Commentary will be received through Sept. 27.

Comments can be sent directly to Cunningham by emailing juliecunningham@mt.gov. Physical comments can be sent to 1400 S. 19th Ave., Bozeman, MT 59718.

Visit fwp.mt.gov or call (406) 994-6341 to learn more.