Tenderfoot Creek Area Land Acquisition


In 2007, the Bair Ranch Foundation (TBRF) contacted the US Forest Service and suggested a public purchase of the Bair Ranch Foundation Property.   To accomplish this historic conservation effort a model partnership was soon formed between TBRF, the US Forest Service, the Tenderfoot Trust and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  The 8,221-acre Tenderfoot Creek acquisition has received support from the Meagher County Commissioners, Montana’s Governor, MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and over 30 local Montana sportsman and angler conservation groups. The project has also received financial support from the Elk Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, MT Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Trust, Cinnabar Foundation and other RMEF Habitat Partners.  

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Logo   Tenderfoot Trust Logo   Logo for the Bair Ranch Foundation US Forest Service Shield
The Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Tenderfoot Trust, a grass-roots volunteer group, formed a coalition and worked together, along with the Bair Ranch Foundation, to acquire the Tenderfoot lands.  The conservation partners contributed substantial private funding toward the Tenderfoot purchases, which included funds from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Cinnabar Foundation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The Land

The acquired lands are located in the Tenderfoot Creek drainage, which flows into the nationally-recognized Smith River, a highly popular floating and fishing stream, within the heart of the historic Lewis & Clark National Forest, in Meagher County, Montana.The lands are located approximately 35 miles northwest of White Sulphur Springs in the Tenderfoot watershed of the Little Belt Mountains within the boundary of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. 

Photo of Tenderfoot Creek, looking upstream

Remarkably diverse, the lands provide a rich mixture of savannah, forest and riparian wildlife habitats, linking high sub-alpine forests to the valley bottom of the Smith River. This acquisition will conserve key cold-water habitat for native west slope cutthroat trout, identified by the Forest Service and cooperating federal and state agencies and landowners as a "Sensitive Species", which is at risk due to restricted range and considered vulnerable to extinction. Acquiring these intermingled private lands will maintain an outstanding natural setting and conserve valuable habitats for elk, moose, deer, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, mountain lion and numerous other native species. 

The 20,000-acre Tenderfoot watershed consists of intermingled private, State of Montana and National Forest System lands. Except for a few small homestead parcels, all of the private land was owned by The Bair Ranch Foundation and is now consolidated into public ownership. The acquired lands span over 3,200 feet in elevation, from sub-alpine mountain ridges and productive forests, to grass meadows and riparian areas, down to the Smith River. This purchase will protect the integrity of this entire landscape as undeveloped forest land, grasslands, and public space.  The Tenderfoot watershed is perhaps the most critical tributary of the Smith River recreational corridor.  Overall, because of the access it provides and the habitat it secures, this acquisition will be enormously valuable to Montana’s hunters and anglers.

The Project

During the past six years (2010-2015), the Tenderfoot partners have successfully completed a total of nine phased acquisitions, consolidating all 8,221 acres of offered lands into the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  The final phase was completed in 2015.  The project received Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) funding as well as private donations.

The Future

The Bair Ranch Foundation has helped to ensure the ongoing health of the land by donating five percent of the purchase price to a trust fund dedicated to stewardship of the land.

Broad Public Support

Recognizing the outstanding public values and the serious risk of losing public access in the Tenderfoot area, the Meagher County Commissioners, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and numerous sportsmen’s and conservation groups (listed below) are strongly supporting the Tenderfoot land acquisition.  The following groups have supported this project: Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Montana Audubon Society; Trout Unlimited; Montana Wildlife Federation; Montana Wilderness Association; Backcountry Anglers; Montana RiverAction Network;Orion – The Hunters Institute; Public Land/Water Access Association, Inc.; Anaconda Sportsman’s Club; Billings Rod & Gun Club; Gallatin Wildlife Association; Skyline Sportsmen’s Association, Butte; Dillon Sportsman; Rosebud/Treasure Wildlife Association; Dawson CountyRod & Gun Club; Electric City Archery Club, Great Falls; Great Falls Archers;Safari Club Int., Great Falls Chapter; Russell Country Sportsmen, Great Falls; Fly Fishers of the Bitterroot; Ravalli CountyFish & Wildlife Association;Bear Paw Bowmen, Havre; Helena Hunters & Anglers Association; Laurel Rod & Gun Club; Libby Rod & Gun Club; Park CountyRod & Gun Club; Custer Rod & Gun Club, Miles City; Big Sky Upland Bird Association, Missoula; Hellgate Hunters & Anglers, Missoula; Polson Outdoors; Broadwater Rod & Gun Club, Townsend; Jefferson ValleySportsmen’s Association; Meagher County Sportsmen’s Association

For more information, contact: Mike Mueller, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (406) 493-6650; Butch Marita, Tenderfoot Trust (850) 766-0960; Mitch Godfrey, Tenderfoot Trust (406) 949-1111; or Carol Hatfield, Forest Service (406) 547-3361.

Maps of the project area:

Click here to download a .kmz file of the acquisition for Google Earth.

Right click on the map image and choose to open it in its own tab to see it full size, or save it to your computer or device.

Tenderfoot Acquisition Detail MapMap of the lands acquired during the Tenderfoot Acquisition