The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), the U.S. Forest Service and private landowner YT Timber worked out a thousand-acre addition to the Lolo National Forest. The announcement was made this week.

The two parcels of land, north of Highway 12, totaling 1,040 acres, will be protected and moved to public ownership. The area is west of Lolo (see map above) and will secure new access points to surrounding public land. Also, it maintains a wildlife movement zone from the Sapphire Mountains through the Bitterroot Valley to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Kyle Weaver, RMEP president and CEO, said in a news release, "We greatly appreciate Y.T. Timber for asking us to conserve this land and help transfer it into the public's hands. This acreage serves as both important winter range and movement corridor for elk, moose, deer and other wildlife species."

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Lolo National Forest Supervisor Carolyn Upton also praised the deal, saying, "This most recent acquisition provides yet another important step toward addressing the historical checker-board ownership patterns in this area. We are grateful for the leadership and partnership that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has provided throughout this effort, and we look forward to stewarding these new National Forest acres which will provide vital connections for habitat and opportunities for recreational access." Forest officials said that since 2010, over 45,000 acres of undeveloped land has been moved into the Lolo National Forest watershed.

The area includes more than a mile of riparian areas on Bear Creek, Camp Creek and Sleeman Creek, all headwater tributaries of Lolo Creek, which helps the spawning of fish such as native westslope cutthroat trout.

Both RMEF and Lolo Forest officials mentioned two historic trails that pass through the area - the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail and the Nez Perce (Nee Me Poo) National Historical Trail.

It is not the first time the RMEF has worked with timber companies of the Yanke family, including access that resulted in the creation of the Mt. Haggin Wildlife Management Area near Anaconda. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, based in Missoula, has conserved more than 8.2 million acres for elk and other wildlife.

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