Going big for big game in Montana

A grant from the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund is helping The Nature Conservancy in Montana on a pair of projects to help protect some of the most cherished big game species in the region.

It supports work to protect and restore forest areas in the Crown of the Continent, one of the last large, intact natural systems in North America, covering more than 10 million acres and encompassing Glacier National Park and some of the best grizzly bear and elk habitat in the United States.

Its forests, peaks and rivers provide room for wolverine, moose and Canada lynx to roam. Communities rely on these forests for resources, health and recreation, and TNC is working to keep them thriving.

“This will help us enhance and protect forest habitat for wildlife,” said Mike Schaedel, Western Montana Forester for TNC. “It will do this by supporting critical restoration work on former industrial timber lands and the preservation of iconic old-growth ponderosa pine groves.”

One area that exemplifies the richness of the region’s wildlife habitat – and its immense restoration needs – is the Gold Creek drainage near Missoula. It is a popular area for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, mountain biking and hiking, and it provides critically important habitat connectivity for wolverine, Canada lynx and grizzly bear. The cold waters of Gold Creek are home to endangered bull trout and native west-slope cutthroat trout.

Work funded by this grant includes commercial and pre-commercial thinning on approximately 700 acres of forests in need of restoration and treating 150 acres where invasive weeds are a threat.

This will help conserve working forest landscapes, protect forests from harm from wildfire and enhance public benefits from trees and forests. Resilient forests are better able to adapt to the effects of climate change, protecting water quality and quantity and supporting all species in the region.

“This work is critical for restoring resilience to the forest, and that translates to resilient habitat for elk, deer, moose, and these other species of concern,” Mike said.

Conservation easement on Maloney Ranch

The grant also will help support a conservation easement on the Maloney Ranch in southwest Montana, an 8,423-acre traditional family ranch in the upper Ruby River Watershed, within the heart of the High Divide Headwaters.

This easement will provide invaluable protection for big game migration and other key wildlife species.

Jim Berkey, the High Divide Headwaters Director for The Nature Conservancy, called the Maloney Ranch Project a “once-every-decade” opportunity.

“What doesn’t happen is typically more important than what does happen,” he said. “The measure of success in an easement is that there is no change. You won’t be seeing rapid growth of subdivisions in the area.”

That’s important because it is helping to protect several big game species. The property is home to a spectacular array of wildlife, from west-slope cutthroat trout, willow flycatcher and greater sage-grouse, to grizzly bear, mule deer, elk and moose.

The impact of development ranges from grouse, which can be kept away from their natural migration patterns and stay away from the region with the installation of even a single power pole, to pronghorn being susceptible to new fencing being erected, and grizzly bear and bighorn sheep being negatively impacted by the influx of a new subdivision.

“This is removing development rights that are harmful to wildlife and habitat in the region,” Berkey said. “It’s a long, long laundry list.”

The Maloney Ranch includes more than 3.4 miles of the Ruby River – habitat for the rare arctic grayling. The intact rangelands support wildlife movement across the Ruby Valley and along the Greenhorn Front.

As pressure grows for conversion to non-agricultural use via subdivision and residential development in this region, the easement is ensuring that this haven for fish, wildlife and birds is important for all who cherish the natural bounty of Montana.

The Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund unites passionate sportsmen and women to stand together as a collective voice for conservation. Customers can support key conservation programs across North America by rounding up their purchases at the register and online.

Rallying passionate customers alongside dedicated team members, industry partners and leading conservation organizations, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s is creating North America’s largest conservation movement to collectively shape the future of the outdoors and all who love it for generations to come.