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Many more miles of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, much of it Wilderness Area, will now be accessible due to a strategic land purchase. This is a perfect example of how local knowledge and good relations combined to do a large good with a very modest purchase.

Lewis and Clark National Forest

The 40 acres that are being bought abut a corner of the forest thirty feet long, and those thirty feet will be enough to allow access to many miles of forest. The purchase isn’t even finished yet they expect to make a parking lot on the land by mid October. Ya I know, but without a parking lot you can’t get out of your car and walk into the woods.

Lewis and Clark National Forest
 This purchase is unlike many conservation easements in that the 40 acres, bought for a hundred ninety thousand, are being resold to the state of Montana for fifty thousand. A loss of three quarters of the purchase price. Who would buy land then immediately resell it at a huge loss as a gift to the people of not only Montana but everyone? The land has no usergroup restrictions and doesn’t limit access unless your main objective is riding some machine. Birders, hikers, campers, fisherfolk, photographers, foragers of flora and fauna, all the uses of National Forest that do not cause disruption will be allowed via this access.

I like that. More public land available to everyone. I’m a liberal with socialist tendencies, I like public land, and I dislike large private entities excluding the public forever. Most public lands in the US are reserved for the use of the citizens, even most ranching or forestry still allows access for other users.

In the western US much of the important land ecologically is in private hands. The bottom lands. Places with a water source running through them. Most wildlife depends on these bottom lands, if not for drinking then for winter range. When snow depth is measured in multiples of feet the amount of bottom land available to ungulates determines not only the maximum number of grazer/browsers but also the maximum number of predators that feed on them, and the richness of the soil that they fertilize with their dung.

Former ranches are bought up in entirety for millions, and who can blame them. Land that was in families for generations creates very little income as a ranch, hard work, best to sell out to wealthy individuals from other states. The wealthy absentee owners keep the main buildings and turn the rest of the land into conservation easement. The tax advantages are huge. One can claim a loss of all the lost value of the land turned into easement to offset gains made in the stock market or elsewhere. You get to keep the millions made in the market, you have a new playground, and all you’ve given up is some future use of the land after you are dead.

Much conservation easement land or land for trophy ranches is still is inaccessible, as is all public land blocked from access behind it. A caretaker stops by the main house once a week to make sure all the utilities are on and the sprinkler system is watering the lawn, cleaning lady once a month, and maybe a one week visit from the owner once a year. The land is not lost, it still feeds animals, but at best you can view it from a  distance only. It’s not yours, it’s not ours.

Alternatively the land can be made into small acreage ranchettes for less wealthy but still wealthy individuals. Retirement houses for people from you know where. The land now becomes an urban wildlands interface in the lingo of firefighters and wildlife managers. The public land behind accessible only to members of the Home Owners Association, after all who wants to walk the dog and rub elbows with ATV riders, or deal with cars parked for campers and hikers and worst of all the dreaded hunters.

The Back Story

What org buys land and then give it to the public? The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) of course. They rank at the very top of those conservation orgs that actually spend money on … conservation.

A long time hunter had used that land in Montana for access to the National Forest behind and knew it would soon go up for sale alerted the RMEF to the opportunity. Elk react to human hunting pressure about a gazzillion times more than they do from wolves, cats, or bear.  An unhunted elk population is much much easier to hunt. It often happens that a landowner will grant the use of his land to one person or family. Rather than keep the knowledge to himself hoping to continue his exclusive access with the new owner, that hunter, who for years had had exclusive access to the forests, contacted the RMEF knowing they had the where with all and the expertise to quickly come to an arrangement with the landowner.

The land deal is typical of RMEF land purchases. They leverage good relations and a good reputation of doing the right thing, they purchase key acreage, and they give it to the public for all to use.

The RMEF “has protected or enhanced habitat on more than 6.3 million acres—an area larger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Great Smoky Mountains national parks combined.”

Originally posted to ban nock at DKos on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 04:41 AM PDT.

Also republished by Hunting and Fishing Kos.

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