Access to the Snowies

The Big Snowy Mountains rise in the distance in this view from the Alaska Bench Road looking back toward Half Moon Pass and Big Baldy mountain. The new FWP access is roughly in the middle of the photo.

In what’s being hailed as an unusually quick and quality acquisition, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday approved FWP’s purchase of 40 acres in Fergus County that will provide access to 18,000 acres in the Big Snowy Mountains via Red Hill Road.

Lewistown hunter Kevin Kepler attended the commission’s meeting in Helena to praise the deal that was made possible by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. RMEF bought the land for $190,000 from owner Marshall Long but will sell it to FWP for $50,000. The land is located 20 miles south of Lewistown.

“The speed at which this thing moved shows that we’re not just talking about access, but we’re doing something about it,” Kepler said.

Commission chairman Dan Vermillion noted that the money for the purchase came from the Come Home to Hunt licenses for residents who had moved away but returned to Montana to hunt. Those license funds were set aside in specifically for gaining access to public land.

“The last Legislature crushed that license,” Vermillion said. “So there’s no more money” from that program.

The concern was that the license would add too many out-of-state hunters to the hills, mountains and prairies, he said.

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In a press release, Gov. Steve Bullock applauded the decision by the commission.

The land will provide hunter access to an area with a large population of elk, as well as mule deer, black bear, mountain grouse and turkey.

Montana has more than 30 million acres of state and federal lands for hunting, camping, hiking and other recreation. Outdoor recreation supports 64,000 jobs in Montana and generates $5.8 billion in consumer spending.