Montana FWP Outdoor Report: How Elk found a winter home in Montana

Posted at 9:59 PM, Jan 26, 2020
and last updated 2021-06-18 18:52:54-04

In this week’s Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Outdoor Report, we look back at how elk found a winter home along the Rocky Mountain front.

The limestone cliffs and timbered slopes give way to one of Montana’s oldest state-owned wildlife management areas, the twenty thousand acre Sun River.

Established in 1947, these foothill grasslands give a winter home to the elk that migrate out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness each fall.

This winter 1800 elk find sanctuary in the shadow of Sawtooth Ridge, a mere 53 years ago that wasn’t possible.

Quentin Kujula with FWP said, “In the late forties, when the initial purchases were still made, up to that point. A lot of problems, elk coming out of what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex not having a piece of ground that they were holy welcome on, lot of game damage.”

The state even hired men on horseback to push off private foothill ranches.

Retired FWP representative Bert Goodman said, “What they attempted to do was to intercept them and herd them back. One day’s travel time back into the mountain.”

The solution wasn’t to get rid of the elk but create a winter home for them.

Kujula also said, “The solution was to purchase ground that came available, that was good ground from a location standpoint.”

As part of the acquisition, wildlife managers reached an agreement with a neighboring rancher, on how to handle elk that moved across their property, “A rancher and a businessman, put up the earnest money for the acquisition of this piece of property,” said Goodman

Mike Cobb is a rancher in the area. Cobb said, “They signed an easement agreement with Ab Cobb, my father. Basically, stating that the elk would be diligently herded to the game range when they were migrating to the game range. And when they were migrating off in the springtime, they would be diligently herded off the Cobb ranch. It’s a good neighbor policy and it’s a great agreement.”

Kujula added, “And it continues to be from the standpoint of wildlife management a very effective piece of ground.”