State of Montana buys land, makes it available for grazing Unlocks 100,000 Acres of Public Land for Public Access

RYEGATE, Mont. – Providing public access to over 100,000 acres of public land, Governor Greg Gianforte today celebrated the grand opening of the Big Snowy Mountains Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to Montanans.

“It’s a great day in Montana as we celebrate unlocking over 100,000 acres of public land for folks to enjoy in the Big Snowy Mountains,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Not only are we opening access for hunters to pristine wildlife habitat, but also, we’re keeping the land available for cattle grazing to keep ranchers on the landscape. This is a win-win for Montana.”

The Big Snowy Mountains WMA opened for the first time today after the Montana Land Board, chaired by Gov. Gianforte, approved the purchase of a 5,677-acre ranch in Golden Valley County last fall.

The state purchased the property from Shodair Children’s Hospital (SCH), who acquired the ranch by donation from Forrest R. Allen, a World War II veteran, philanthropist, conservationist, and farmer.

Joining the governor at the grand opening today, Craig Aasved, CEO of SCH said, “I can’t say thank you enough to all the partners involved in this project. I grew up in the Snowy Mountains on the other side, so to be a part of this is a legacy I’ll cherish forever.”

After acquiring the property, SCH partnered with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) to identify a conservation outcome for the property.

With strong support from Gov. Gianforte, RMEF, and sportsmen and sportswomen across Montana, SCH sold the land to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in late 2022.

“Only once in a while do days like this happen. Today is historic and epic and it wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Governor Gianforte,” said Mike Mueller, senior lands program manager for RMEF. “This is really important today – conserving open spaces and promoting recreation.”

As part of the purchase agreement, the governor proposed a covenant to the vesting deed for the property requiring the state keep the land available for cattle grazing.

Gov. Gianforte discussing the new Big Snowy Mountains Wildlife Management Area

“We have a vested interest in seeing land conserved for wildlife habitat while also keeping ranchers on the landscape. This project accomplishes both, and it’s something to be proud of,” the governor said.

Currently under a cattle-grazing lease, the property is entirely native mountain/foothill and prairie grassland habitats with no farmed or crop land. It provides excellent habitat and access to the Big Snowy’s elk herd, as well as habitat for black bear, mule deer, pronghorn, and at least 22 animals listed as species of concern.

The region also has significance to several tribes in Montana. Representatives of the Crow Tribe, Blackfeet Nation, and Little Shell Tribe attended the grand opening today.

Clancy Sivertsen with the Little Shell Tribe said, “This is a big, big deal. Our people lived in this country and they used everything to make their tools, clothing, the whole works for the culture. This is huge not only for the Little Shell people, but all the people in Montana to have this available. Thank you from the Little Shell.”

Increasing public access to public lands is a top priority for Gov. Gianforte. Since the governor took office, Montanans gained access to a new WMA in the Big Snowy Mountains, a new WMA at Bad Rock Canyon, an expanded WMA at Mount Haggin, and a new state park at Somers Beach. 

–Governor Gianforte