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SITKA Team | 10.19.2020

Grant Profile: Middle Cottonwood

Hunting in the American West is dependent on land access, and as our population increases and human development continues to encroach into wild places, preservation and access becomes increasingly vital to our way of life. With a recent SITKA Ecosystem Grant, we were able to preserve access to an extremely important piece of land, ensuring that it remains open to the public without threat of development, forever. Perhaps most importantly for us, this vital piece of land is in our front yard.

Located in Bozeman, Montana, the SITKA Gear office stands in the shadow of the Bridger Mountains, which are home to numerous species of wildlife including bears, moose, mountain goat, mule deer and elk. These mountains are not only where we hunt, but also where we recreate with our families, where we spend our weekends, and where we go to connect with the natural world on a daily basis. Our office overlooks a particular parcel of land in these mountains, located at the mouth of Middle Cottonwood drainage, a section of undeveloped private land acts as both an access point to National Forest land and a buffer between the wild and suburbs that continue to develop near it.

The preservation of the Middle Cottonwood property ensures the trail corridor and surrounding wildlife habitat are protected from development forever. With other committed partners and donors, a SITKA Ecosystem grant has helped purchase this 160-acre, ecologically sensitive parcel in the name of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, which will permanently protect the land by conveying it to the US Forest Service and back into public hands.

“We can literally see this piece of ground from our headquarters, so it’s very much in our front yard,” says SITKA Gear Consumer Experience Lead, Thad Kaczmarek. “It’s a piece of ground that fills a void of private between a big sea of public. It’s a very important checkerboard piece to create a more contiguous piece of public land.”

Not only will the land be open to hunting, but it will remain open for biking, hiking, fishing, and other non-motorized recreation as well, as the popular Middle Cottonwood Trail passes through the parcel. In addition, SITKA employees, in partnership with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, will actively participate in ongoing habitat stewardship efforts to help restore the land, which has been identified as critical winter range for elk and mule deer, as well as important transitional habitat for moose, bear, mountain goat, and a variety of other flora and fauna.

“So much conservation work in the private space touches on properties that are being set aside. They aren’t necessarily given back to the Forest Service or given back to the people,” Kaczmarek says. “This was an opportunity for us to put our money where our mouth is. We can say to the people in our community, you can hunt this place in two years. You can bike it. You can recreate here. This is a chance for us to really contribute and give back to hunters and non-hunters alike.”

Many SITKA employees recently participated in a volunteer day on the parcel, led by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. The focus of the day was promoting growth of important aspen stands by clearing conifers that were encroaching on the stands. The team worked with hand saws due to high fire risk.

“I appreciate SITKA Gear stepping up with both funds and a team of helpers to partner with Gallatin Valley Land Trust to transfer this parcel of land from private ownership to public ownership,” says SITKA Whitetail Product Line Manager, Chris Derrick, who was part of the volunteer crew. “My undergrad degree is in forestry, so this project was enjoyable to be a part of by reducing the competitive pressure on aspen stands in order to release them. The more diverse landscape will help wildlife and the overall appearance of the canyon. Once we finished you could really see the difference in the forest canopy.”

In time, and with more volunteer hours spent, this parcel of land will be the ideal wildlife habitat it once was. And soon it will be back in public hands, accessible to hunters, hikers, bikers, and more.

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