BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comments as part of a plan to open additional parts of the remote Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge to the public.
The 51,000-acre refuge in western Montana runs along the Idaho border west of West Yellowstone. The area is an important habitat for Arctic grayling and grizzly bears.
Refuge manager Bill West told The Bozeman Daily Chronicle that the federal agency bought 1,490 acres east of the refuge last summer. Another 6,000 acres of easements surround the purchased property.
Before the area can be opened, West said, there has to be a public comment period and planning process.
West is seeking ideas on uses or services people would like to see in the new area and suggestions for rules that should be in place.
West said he plans to use the input to develop an environmental assessment that can be added as an amendment to the Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan completed in 2009. He said using an amendment will allow the land to open to the public sooner.
Nathan Korb of the Nature Conservancy said the 1,490 acres was purchased from a grazing association in 2008 by an eastern conservation group with the plan of selling it to Fish and Wildlife.
In the intervening years, Fish and Wildlife bought various sections and put together conservation easements with other property owners. During that time, Korb said, the Nature Conservancy started restoring overgrazed habitat.
"That was one of our highest priority restoration projects in southwest Montana, just because of that grayling factor, grizzly bears and all the different critters that are using that area," Korb said. "The idea was to get this into a good condition by the time the refuge acquired it."
Restoration efforts included taking out a cabin site and trash and replacing miles of barbed-wire fence with fences more friendly to wildlife.