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Associated Press Sun River Wildlife Management Area, Chute Mountain Outstanding Natural Area would be affected by proposals

GREAT FALLS (AP) - Oil and gas leasing in choice, state-owned wildlife habitat is again being considered, and a Montana wildlife official says he will fight it.

Proposals involve the Sun River Wildlife Management Area, and state land near the Chute Mountain Outstanding Natural Area, which is part of the Rocky Mountain Front.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is advertising for lease about 1,950 acres in the southeastern part of the Sun River game range, a critical elk wintering ground closed to people 5 1/2 months of the year. In the Chute Mountain area, the state agency is advertising 760 acres.

Mike Aderhold, a regional supervisor for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said he will argue against the leases. The environment is too sensitive for oil and gas work, he said.

Last year, a petroleum developer withdrew his application involving other state lands near the Sun River game range, after public opposition to leasing. Two years ago, the U.S. Forest Service withdrew all of its Rocky Mountain Front lands from petroleum development. The agency said it wanted a 10-year study period.

"The irony of the whole thing is, you have an area there that is so sensitive they don't let human beings walk on it for 5 1/2 months per year, and they are proposing it for potential industrial development," said Gene Sentz of Friends of the Rocky Mountain Front. "It's the same old deal again."

State officials say accepting applications for leases does not mean leases will be issued. When applications are received, Natural Resources and Conservation must advertise them. The state agencies that control the land must decide whether they wish to issues leases, then an environmental assessment is conducted.

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