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Large conservation area being considered for southwest Montana

A public meeting will be held on the proposal at the Butte Public Archives on Oct. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Posted at 8:17 AM, Oct 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-16 10:17:45-04

BUTTE - The U.S. government is proposing to designate nearly 6 million acres of land here in southwest Montana as the Missouri Headwaters Conservation Area with the purpose of purchasing conservation easements from willing private landowners.

“It keeps the landscape intact. It prevents subdivision, it keeps it from being broken up in to 20-10 five-acre lots and having houses built on it and it keeps the grass or sage or whatever the native ground intact,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge Manager Ben Gilles.

If approved, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would try to purchase up to 250,000 acres of easements from private landowners. The easements would be open as wildlife migration corridors.

“There’s absolutely no restriction on grazing, the number of cows anything like that, we want to see people running successful ranches,” said Gilles.

Some groups are skeptical of the proposal.

“It seems like a very, very expansive and broad-brushed approach with very little information,” said Matt Vincent with the Montana Mining Association.

The Montana Mining Association is concerned that designating this large area that includes portions of five counties could impact permitted activities such as mining which often gets bogged down in lawsuits.

“All of the sudden you have this additional weight on the side of conservation, it’s just one more likelihood or reason to sue,” said Vincent.

Fish and Wildlife say conservation areas don’t hinder business.

“There’s a Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area in North Dakota that’s nearly 30 million acres. The city of Bismark is in that conservation area, there’s a large coal strip mine inside that conservation area, you know, all that stuff continues to go on,” said Gilles.

A public meeting will be held on the proposal at the Butte Public Archives on Oct. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m.