Progress is being made on acquiring nearly 600 acres of land north of Gardiner, Montana for Yellowstone area wildlife like elk.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the U.S. Forest Service has released an environmental assessment of a potential land swap between the Service and the owners of Shooting Star Ranch.
Under the proposal, the Service would acquire 583 acres of land east of Yellowstone River and Highway 89, adjacent to the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area, while the Shooting Star owners would acquire 590 acres of land in Cinnabar Basin, west of the river. The Cinnabar Basin land is an inholding of federal land surrounded by ranchland.
We previously reported officials sought the land swap in order to preserve a corridor for Yellowstone area wildlife between Dome Mountain WMA and the river. The Service says the swap will also expand recreation opportunities around that part of the River, most notably along Slip and Slide Creek.
Gardiner district ranger Mike Thom told the Chronicle he expects the deal to be finalized by next fall, highlighting the benefits the exchange will bring for wildlife:
“Getting into a place where that landscape will be conserved for wildlife … that’s the biggest thing,” Thom said.
It would also add to a list of preservation efforts on the northern border of Yellowstone in the last few decades, including land purchases and conservation easements meant to protect wildlife habitat. Thom said Slip and Slide was “kind of the last big chunk that’s been sitting out there.”
The deal has been in the works for more than a decade. Bill Morean, owner of Shooting Star Ranch and a member of Forbes’ 2005 list of the 400 richest Americans, bought most of the Slip and Slide Ranch in 2008.
According to the environmental assessment, Morean bought the land with plans to trade it to the Forest Service for land near his ranch in the Cinnabar Basin.
This deal was reached in 2015. It gives Morean two pieces of federal land in the upper Cinnabar Basin surrounded by land he owns. The environmental assessment says there’s no legal public access to the pieces. Morean has also agreed to place a conservation easement on the property, precluding any future development.
According to Thom, once the deal is finalized, the agency will remove fences and buildings. A road leading up to the parcel will be kept for administrative use by the Forest Service. Thom also told the Chronicle the agency will consider doing native plant and range restoration.