FWP News: FWP looks to purchase new recreation site on Yellowstone River near Reed Point
By angelamontana

Posted: September 28, 2022

Otter Creek Islands draft EA now available for public comment

BILLINGS – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Montana Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) have released a draft environmental assessment (EA) to acquire an island complex in the Yellowstone River upstream of Reed Point. Public comments on the Otter Creek Islands draft EA will be accepted from Sept. 28 to Oct. 28.

The complex would be acquired with restoration funds administered by the NRDP as a result of the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company July 1, 2011, Yellowstone River Oil Spill. Included in the property purchase are two approximately 50-acre parcels on islands in the Yellowstone River, just upstream of the Indian Fort Fishing Access Site near Reed Point.

The islands are in a high-priority reach of the Yellowstone River for additional public access. In addition, the NRDP has goals to promote natural river functions and recruitment of large woody debris — typically cottonwoods — to the river during floods by securing cottonwood riparian areas that are exposed to natural riverine forces. Large woody debris is critical in a natural river system for healthy fish and wildlife habitat.

The NRDP proposes to fund FWP to purchase the islands from Otter Creek Ranch, LLC, in partnership with the Beartooth Group from Bozeman. FWP would hold title to and administer the property on behalf of the State of Montana. The islands would remain as an undeveloped area for wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities for the public such as boat-in angling, hunting, birdwatching, and camping.

The Beartooth Group is a conservation real estate firm. They focus on partnering with landowners and public agencies to craft unique solutions beyond the simple sale of ranch properties that meet landowner needs and result in conservation, increased public access and other benefits.

In this case, the Beartooth Group offered the sale of the Otter Creek Island parcels to NRDP and FWP in hopes of providing property to meet the programmatic needs of NRDP and access needs of FWP and the recreating public.

The project is part of the implementation of the Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company July 1, 2011, Yellowstone River Oil Spill prepared by the U.S. Department of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the State of Montana through NRDP. The restoration plan identified five categories of injury along the Yellowstone River and identified project types for each category to address the injuries, compensate for the service losses due to the oil spill and meet restoration plan goals. This acquisition addresses the terrestrial/riparian habitat and large woody debris project categories.

The environmental assessment can be viewed at: https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/news/public-notices/2022/region-5/otter-creek-islands-acquisition-draft-ea-september-28-to-october-28-2022-r5.pdf

Physical copies of the draft EA may be obtained at the FWP office located at 2300 Lake Elmo Drive in Billings or requested in the mail by phoning 406-247-2940.

The public comment period will be 30 days, beginning Sept. 28 and ending at midnight on Oct. 28. Written comments can be mailed to:

Sean Flynn                                                                   Padraig Cunneen

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks                                      Montana NRDP

2300 Lake Elmo Drive                                                   P.O. Box 201425

Billings, MT 59105                                                        Helena, MT 59620

Emailed comments can be sent to fwpregion5pc@mt.gov; please use subject: Otter Creek Islands.

Phone comments can be directed to: FWP, Sean Flynn at 406-431-6112, or NRDP, Padraig Cunneen at 406-565-6294.

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