FWP Seeks Comment on Proposed Access Easement on Ranch East of Sula
By Toby Trigger

Posted: January 10, 2015

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is seeking public review and comment on its proposal to acquire a public hunting access component of a conservation easement on the Lazy J Cross Ranch east of Sula.

The proposal calls for Bitter Root Land Trust (BRLT) to purchase a conservation easement to protect the water, habitat, agricultural ground and public recreation opportunities on the historic 1,080-acre ranch. BRLT would then assign the hunting access rights of the easement to FWP to manage hunting permission and other aspects of public access on the easement lands.

In addition to hunting access on the ranch property, the easement would provide access to 40,000 acres of adjacent publicly owned US Forest Service and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) lands.

The property provides year-round habitat for game species such as elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, moose, black bear, mountain lion, wolf and upland game birds.

As proposed, FWP would pay $105,000 from its Access Public Lands (Access Montana) Program as partial funding towards the easement. Additional funding would come from the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond and from a donation of part of the land value from the Lazy J Cross landowners.

FWP will hold a public hearing in Sula on Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Sula Club House (1.4 miles east of Hwy 93 on the East Fork Road) to discuss the proposed conservation easement and take public comment.

A draft environmental assessment on the proposal can be found online at fwp.mt.gov under “Submit Public Comments.” Or, request it by mail from Region 2 FWP, 3201 Spurgin Rd., Missoula 59804; phone 406-542-5540; email shrose@mt.gov.

Comments can be submitted online at fwp.mt.gov under “Submit Public Comments,” or should be directed to Sharon Rose using the contact information above. Comments must be received by FWP no later than 5 p.m. on February 6, 2015.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission will make a final decision on the acquisition at its March meeting in Helena, and the Montana Board of Land Commissioners must also review the proposal.