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Outdoor Report: How elk found a winter home in Montana

Posted at 11:28 AM, Jan 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-27 13:36:05-05

We look back at how elk found a winter home along the Rocky Mountain Front in the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Outdoor Report.

The limestone cliffs and timbered slopes give way to one of Montana’s oldest state-owned wildlife management areas, the 20,000-acre Sun River. Established in 1947, the foothill grasslands give a winter home to the elk that migrate out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness each fall.

This winter, 1800 elk find sanctuary in the shadow of Sawtooth Ridge, a mere 53 years ago that wasn’t possible.

“In the late 40s, when the initial purchases were still made, up to that point. A lot of problems, elk coming out of what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex not having a piece of ground that they were holy welcome on, lot of game damage,” said FWP’s Quentin Kujula.

The state even hired men on horseback to push off private foothill ranches. “What they attempted to do was to intercept them and herd them back. One day’s travel time back into the mountain,” retired FWP representative Bert Goodman said.

The solution wasn’t to get rid of the elk but create a winter home for them. “The solution was to purchase ground that came available, that was good ground from a location standpoint,” Kujula said.

As part of the acquisition, wildlife managers reached an agreement with a neighboring rancher, on how to handle elk that moved across their property. “A rancher and a businessman, put up the earnest money for the acquisition of this piece of property,” said Goodman

“They signed an easement agreement with Ab Cobb, my father,” area rancher Mike Cobb said. “Basically, stating that the elk would be diligently herded to the game range when they were migrating to the game range. “And when they were migrating off in the springtime, they would be diligently herded off the Cobb ranch. It’s a good neighbor policy and it’s a great agreement."

“And it continues to be from the standpoint of wildlife management a very effective piece of ground,” concluded Kujula.