Although the Milk River Ranch acquisition garnered the most attention at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission meeting on Monday, the group also approved the purchase of a 981-acre addition to the Seven Sisters Wildlife Management Area near Sidney and accepted the donation of what will become the 1,050-acre Spring Coulee WMA in Chouteau County.
The $1.28 million Seven Sisters addition along the Yellowstone River includes a 710-acre island in addition to 271 acres of upland and riparian habitat along the riverbank. Most of the money came from the Habitat Montana fund, financed by sportsmen's license fees, as well as a $100,000 state wildlife grant.
"We think this is of high value for wildlife, so we're suggesting you purchase it," said Ken McDonald, wildlife bureau chief.
At the request of the current owner's son, the commission also agreed to set up a five-acre no-shooting zone near corrals on the adjacent land. That buffer may be established by selling the five acres back to the son.
"This is a good project," said Commissioner Shane Colton, of Billings. "The resource over there is getting strained a bit" (from oil production).
"I think we need to secure this stuff when we can."
Commissioner Ron Moody agreed.
"This is an area of the state where opportunity is going away quickly" because of the energy boom, he said.
The other property, on the north side of the Missouri River south of Big Sandy, was a donation by a family that has so far chosen to remain anonymous. The property will provide access to adjacent state and federal land. The only problem is that, for now, access is only available from the river.
"One hiccup to this is we're still trying to figure out if there's road access," McDonald said.
Despite that problem, the commission endorsed accepting the donation.
"It's sure nice to have a donation of land rather than arguing about the $4.7 million," commission chairman Bob Ream said, referring to the controversial Milk River Ranch land deal.