State to begin work on acquiring Dome Mountain Ranch

Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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By Michael Wright

State officials will begin work on buying a piece of land on the southern end of the Paradise Valley after the state’s fish and wildlife commission gave the OK on Thursday.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to endorse Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ proposal to acquire the Dome Mountain Ranch, a swath of land between Emigrant and Jardine that conservationists and biologists lauded for the wildlife habitat it offers. The commission’s endorsement means FWP can take the next steps in the process, which include a property appraisal, environmental analysis and locating the money to make the deal happen.

Nothing is guaranteed, and it could be a while before the deal is done, but commissioners said Thursday they want to see it happen.

“I’ve thought oftentimes that this would be one of the most incredible pieces of property that you could buy for Montanans,” said Dan Vermillion, the chair of the commission.

The ranch, which has been for sale for a few years, consists of 5,366 acres. It includes a few lakes, plenty of grassland and more than four miles of Yellowstone River frontage. The asking price listed on fayranches.com is $25 million.

What the state will pay for the property isn’t clear. The price will be set by a property appraisal, and conservation groups may kick in some money to help the state shoulder the cost.

If the state has its way, the land would be added to the existing Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area, which butts up against it. The addition would more than double the size of the wildlife management area, bringing it to more than 10,000 acres.

Wildlife already use the ranch property, including members of Yellowstone National Park’s northern elk herd. Many members of the herd migrate through it on their way to winter range.

Mike Mueller, the lands program manager for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said the landowners there have allowed wildlife to use the land for years, and that the state and elk lovers are “so lucky we’ve had this conflict-free range for this herd here.”

Mueller also noted that buying the land would save a hearty piece of eye candy from development.

“Over half of this ranch can be seen from the highway and the river,” Mueller said.

Pat Byorth, of Trout Unlimited, said his group is excited about the river frontage the property will offer. Adding public land in that area could lessen the angling pressure seen on other sections of the Yellowstone by creating more opportunity for wading anglers.

“This opens up a lot of wading access and a lot of opportunity to disperse anglers,” Byorth said.