By MATT VOLZ? | Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Land Board on Monday approved a $345,000 purchase of 320 acres of threatened grizzly bear habitat to add to the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area in Teton County.
The state is buying the land from The Conservation Fund with a grant from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services program to help the recovery of grizzlies in the northern Continental Divide.
The 320 acres of timber, grasslands and wetlands is considered critical grizzly bear habitat and is adjacent to the 10,397-acre wildlife management area. The Conservation Fund originally purchased the land to prevent it from being sold to landowners who may not be interested in protecting the bear habitat, state officials said.
Candace Durran of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said The Conservation Fund paid $575,000 for the land. The federal grant pays for 60 percent of the appraised value of the land, and the rest of the value will be donated by The Conservation Fund as a matching contribution, she told the board.
“This is exciting, great habitat,” Gov. Steve Bullock said after the board's unanimous vote. “It will be good for the state for generations to come.”
The state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the purchase earlier this month after Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks concluded it would not harm the environment. The parcel also is winter range for elk and mule deer and would provide recreational opportunities for hunters and the public, FWP said.
The purchase needed final approval from the land board, which consists of Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau.
The board also approved:
— An easement along the old McCarty Creek Road, which was a stagecoach trail from Boulder to the historic mining town of Elkhorn. The easement is part of a legal settlement to relocate a portion of the road so that motorized users could better access nearby U.S. Forest Service land.
— Leasing a 28-acre parcel of land near Kalispell for commercial development that's expected to bring in $2.7 million over 25 years. The parcel, called Victory Commons, is on U.S. Highway 93 near several other commercial developments. John Tubbs, executive director of the Natural Resources and Conservation Department, said TKG Spring Prairie Development Four LLC is expected to develop a hotel, restaurants and more retail shopping on the land.