Elk Bugles

An elk bugles near Yellowstone National Park in this file photo.

Montana officials have closed a land deal that will add about 160 acres to a wildlife management area north of Yellowstone that’s known for an abundance of elk habitat.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and The Conservation Fund announced this week that a deal had been finalized to transfer 160 acres of private land abutting the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area into state ownership.

FWP purchased the inholding from The Conservation Fund for $550,775. It consolidates a block of public land and secures habitat for elk that migrate between the valley and Yellowstone National Park.

“It’s obviously important elk winter range and also pretty important for a lot of other species that use the game range, from grizzly bears to mule deer,” said Howard Burt, FWP’s regional wildlife manager.

The sliver of private land was surrounded by public land — U.S. Forest Service land on one side and the wildlife management area on the other. It was retained by the landowner after the creation of the 4,800-acre wildlife management area and it included a year-round travel easement that allowed the landowner to access a cabin on the parcel. In proposing buying the land, FWP told the Fish and Wildlife Commission that use of the travel easement was disrupting wildlife and hunters on the wildlife management area.

Burt said FWP tore down the cabin and a shed there and reclaimed the land.

The price FWP paid for the property was a bargain deal offered by The Conservation Fund, which bought the land in 2018.

An appraisal at the time put the property’s value at more than $1.3 million — FWP’s price was less than half that.

The agency used Habitat Montana money to pay for the acquisition.

Gates Watson, The Conservation Fund’s Montana and northwest director, said in a news release that the parcel is “the last piece of the puzzle” for the wildlife management area and provides “significant benefits for both FWP’s management efforts and the animals that migrate across the landscape of the Greater Yellowstone area.”

Other land deals have been in the works in that part of the state over the past few years. The Forest Service is nearing completion of a land swap at the Shooting Star Ranch, just south of Yankee Jim Canyon.

FWP had been trying to buy the Dome Mountain Ranch, a 5,366-acre property near the wildlife management area that had been for sale for a few years, but that’s on the outs. Burt said the property is no longer on the market and that FWP isn’t pursuing it at this point.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

Michael Wright covers the environment and wildlife issues for the Chronicle.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.