The residents of Anaconda now have more public land to play on just outside of town.
On Monday, the Montana Land Board voted unanimously to approve the addition of 600 acres to the 9,000-acre Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area.
Four sportsmen and a county commissioner rose to speak in favor of the Stumptown Addition project, representing not only themselves but also many of the citizens of Anaconda and western Montana.
Commissioner Terry Vermeire said the Anaconda Deer Lodge County commission voted unanimously in favor of the Stumptown addition in October.
“I keep getting questions from the public wondering where this is. So there’s tremendous support in our community for this acquisition,” Vermeire said.
The section of land in question sits just about a mile west of the Anaconda city limits and is a final piece that would almost complete the 175,000-acre land puzzle that once was all U.S. Forest Service land before passing into the hands of the Anaconda Company.
Since about 2000, the state and the U.S. Forest Service has been able to buy much of the undeveloped land back. But the Stumptown section was more expensive because the Stumptown Road provided access for development. And that had locals and biologists worried.
Chris Marchion and Dave Stone of the Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club said the project would not only provide hunting and fishing access that is critical for the growing recreation industry in Anaconda, but it would also preserve open land in a state that is seeing rapid population growth and development.
Stone pointed out that the slopes are home to the largest continuous aspen stand in southwest Montana and provide habitat for wintering elk, deer and bighorn sheep.
“Anaconda will never be a smelter town again as some people in town still hope. It just isn’t going to happen,” Stone said. “We’re about recreation now. It’s a good industry and we need to acquire these properties that draw people to that area where they don’t have to go a long distance to get out to recreate.”
Fortunately, the most recent landowner, Ray Dvorak, wanted to sell it to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and turned to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for help.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Lands director Mike Mueller told the Land Board that getting all the Anaconda Company lands back was “epic for the state of Montana.”
“We’ve been in partnership for so long, we know a good opportunity when we see it,” Mueller said.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation chipped in $100,000, as did the Habitat Montana program. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation trust added $75,000.
But the Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage program is paying most – $1.4 million – of the $1.74 million price tag. That might have made it easier for some on the Land Board to swallow.
“The bulk of the money came from the Natural Resource Damage program,” Bullock said. “The injuries to our land are certainly something we all feel. But this is going to make a meaningful difference, not just immediately, but for generations.”
The sportsmen were worried that state auditor Matt Rosendale, known for being anti-public-land, might cast a nay vote and influence others to reject the project. They were relieved when he voted “aye” with the rest of the board members and chalked it up to the fact it’s an election year.
On Friday, Kathleen Williams, Rosendale’s opponent in the race for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, issued a press release urging Rosendale to vote for the Stumptown addition.
“In Montana, our outdoor heritage is precious, and we need a representative in Congress who understands that. While Commissioner Matt Rosendale has repeatedly stood against Montana’s outdoor heritage, this is an opportunity for him to finally show he gets it. Matt – vote yes,” Williams said in Friday’s statement.
Whatever the cause, Marchion was happy as he drove from Helena back to Anaconda on Monday. Having backed three other Anaconda-area projects before the Land Board, he told the board before the vote he was “three-for-three.” Now, he can say he’s four-for-four.
“We really appreciate this land board’s support for these projects,” Marchion said.
Later, the Land Board also unanimously approved FWP’s purchase of 97 acres to add to the C. Ben White Memorial fishing access site on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at email@example.com