Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is proposing to pay more than $3.4 million to acquire an easement to more than 9,700 acres of land north of Hysham in Treasure County, about 1,000 acres of which is along the Yellowstone River.
“The proposed Antelope Coulee Conservation Easement is a unique opportunity to conserve diverse habitats; ranging from cottonwood dominated riparian habitats along the Yellowstone River to sagebrush grasslands in the uplands,” according to FWP’s draft environmental assessment. “These habitats support a variety of species, including big game, waterfowl, upland game birds and non-game wildlife, which would benefit from the habitat protection and enhancement associated with this Easement.”
A public meeting in Hysham is scheduled for Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Treasure County Community Center to discuss the proposed conservation easement.
The acreage, owned by the DeCock Ranch Co., is located south of Mission Valley Road and east of the Ingomar Hysham Road. The land would link other public acreage in the area, including the Issac Homestead wildlife management area, state lands, the BLM’s Howrey Island Recreational Area and private lands enrolled in the Block Management Program. Across the river on the south shore from the acreage is the Amelia Island wildlife management area and Amelia Island fishing access site.
According to the draft EA, the landscape, which is 96% native grassland, is home to antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasant, Canada geese, and numerous songbirds.
Money for the purchase would come from state Habitat Montana dollars and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (also known as Pittman-Robertson funds). The federal funds would cover 75% of the purchase price.
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The easement would guarantee public access “on a non-preferential and nondiscretionary basis in perpetuity,” according to the draft EA. “Members of the public may be required to obtain permission prior to accessing the Land, and the Landowner may manage the distribution and numbers of the public on the Land.”
Under the proposed agreement, the DeCock Ranch would provide “500 hunter-days annually if demand exists.” The agreement would also “prohibit the landowner from selling, leasing, or charging trespass fees to access or cross the Land for hunting, fishing, or wildlife viewing purposes.”
In return, the landowner can continue to graze the acreage or lease it out for grazing. The agreement also contains provisions for splitting the cost of new fencing.
In addition to the seven miles of Yellowstone River frontage, the property contains McDonald Creek, Antelope Coulee, Cedar Coulee, Froze-To-Death Creek, and their tributaries.
The land is located within FWP Region 7, and Hunting District 701 for deer, elk, and antelope.
The draft environmental assessment can be viewed online at: http://fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/conservationEasements/pn_0039.html, and hard copies are available upon request from the FWP Region 7 office. Written comments will be accepted until Sept. 26 and can be mailed to: Antelope Coulee Conservation Easement EA, c/o Steve Atwood, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, P.O. Box 1630, Miles City, MT 59301, or emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fish & Wildlife Commission will render its decision on the easement at its October meeting.