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Open Space: Anaconda, MT Style

Updated: Apr 13

With its 843-acre Central Park and 6.5 acres of zoo, New York claims to be the greatest city in the world. Those numbers provide an impressive 0.0000958 acre/person, excluding visitors. It's an open space surrounded by a city.

Anaconda Deer Lodge County Courthouse nested at base of mountains
Historical Anaconda sits in the heart of a magnificent mecca of open lands. (Photo: Marsha Hill)

On the other hand, approximately 10,000 people live in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. The combined city/county population makes it the 9th largest community in Montana.

The community of Anaconda has roughly 69 acres of city open space, including Washoe Park. In addition, the community is surrounded by the county's 471,000 acres. That's an impressive 47.1 acres per resident! And while there is no city zoo, herds of elk, deer and bighorn sheep thrive here.

Bighorn Sheep baby rams playing.
Bighorn Sheep, and pictured here baby Rams, thrive in the open space around Anaconda. (Photo: Susi Stroud)

This massive acreage houses the largest National Forest in Montana and other lands managed by the Bureau of Land Managment and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park (FWP). Private lands include some open to public use through a FWP Block Management Program.

Anaconda, MT--a community, surrounded by open space.

Smelt Stack In Anaconda, MT on National Register of Historic Places
Built in 1919, the Anaocnda Smelter Stack is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo, bought from Adobe Stock)

The county's history features frontier exploration, mineral extraction and processing, and environmental impacts. In the mid 19th and 20th centuries, much of the wildlife habitat in the area was damaged. Streams were rerouted, floods damaged wetlands and nearby riparian habitat, forests were stripped, and grasslands were subjected to airborne contaminants.

In what may be one of the most successful Superfund Site recovery efforts in history, these environments have been and continue to be, recovered and restored.

Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) have been a particularly effective tool in the area to recover and preserve the damaged habitat. It's success is self-evident. Now, the area celebrates its flourishing biodiverse ecosystem. Whether it's wildlife viewing, birdwatching, fishing, or getting out in the backcountry, the WMA's have fostered what is now an extraordinary natural resource and robust natural environment.

Silverbow Creek, Clark Fork, Warm Springs Creek and all the watershed from Butte to Missoula continue to recover the cold-water fishery. Warm Springs WMA, with the Clark Fork running through it, offers ponds, wetlands, and riparian habitat for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds.

Bohemian Waxwing resting on branch
Bohemian Waxwing. (Photo:Susi Stroud)
For extraordinary birdwatching field experiences and informational sessions with some of Montana's leading avian experts, check out Wings of Conservation--A Birding Experience for Avian Enthusiasts, in Anaconda, MT, May 17-19, 2024.

Grasslands in Warm Springs, Lost Creek and Stucky Ridge WMAs offer much needed big game habitat, especially in colder seasons. Magnificently restored uplands, aspen groves and conifer forests in Garrity, Haggin, and Blue-Eyed Nellie WMAs support big game—moose, elk, deer, bear, and bighorn sheep, and numerous bird species.

Elk wintering near Anaconda, MT.
Elk wintering near Anaconda, MT. (Photo: Steve Hill)

The wildlife in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County is a living testament to the power of the WMA’s. Thanks to this thoughtful management and recovery, elk, deer, bighorn sheep and moose share the same landscape, and over 400 bird species share the air. When hiking, biking, skiing, snow shoeing or riding through any of these WMAs, one can feel the atmosphere and freedom of a natural landscape and native wildlife. Wildlife viewing and birdwatching are extraordinary. It's a place where biodiversity thrives, reminding us of the importance of conservation efforts to protect these wild treasures for generations to come. 

Why a Wildlife Management Area?

A Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a designated area of land set aside for the conservation and management of wildlife species and their habitats. Typically managed by state and federal agencies, WMAs are designed to promote biodiversity, protect natural ecosystems, and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, and hiking.

WMAs play a crucial role in wildlife conservation by providing protected spaces where various species can thrive, and where habitat restoration and enhancement efforts can be implemented. Management activities within WMAs may include habitat restoration, stream and stream-bank reconstruction, controlled burns, managing invasive species, and monitoring of wildlife populations. Regulations and permitted activities within a Wildlife Management Area can vary depending on the conservation goals for that area.

“Our WMAs are purchased specifically to preserve and protect wildlife habitat for perpetuity,” says Liz Bradley, a Wildlife Program Manager for FWPs Region 2, tasked with managing the WMAs in the Anaconda area. “That’s what makes them unique. Our considerations and choices for managing the WMAs are based solely on a ‘wildlife first’ approach.”

View of Mount Haggin in the background and Garrity Wild Life Management Area in the foreground. Looking south from Stucky Ridge July 2022
Many species benefit from WMA management. View of Mt. Haggin near Anaconda. (Photo: Marsha Hill)

WMAs are left wild and undeveloped. Protecting wildlife is the primary goal, Bradley says. “Many are purchased for their value as winter range habitat for big game animals. As such, many WMAs enforce winter closures (typically Dec. 1 to May 15) to provide refuge for wildlife during this sensitive time.”

Why are Wildlife Management Areas important?

WMAs are important for many reasons:

  • Conservation of Biodiversity: WMAs provide protected spaces where a variety of plant and animal species can live and thrive. By preserving diverse ecosystems, WMAs contribute to the overall biodiversity of a region, helping to maintain healthy and resilient ecosystems.

  • Habitat Protection and Restoration: These areas are often managed to protect and restore natural habitats. Activities such as controlled burns, invasive species control, and habitat restoration efforts help maintain the ecological balance and provide suitable environments for native wildlife.

  • Wildlife Research and Monitoring: WMAs serve as valuable sites for wildlife research and monitoring. Scientists and conservationists can study wildlife populations, behavior, and habitats within these areas, gaining insights that can inform broader conservation strategies.

  • Recreation Opportunities: Many WMAs are open to the public for recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, and wildlife photography. These activities not only provide outdoor enjoyment for people but also contribute to funding conservation efforts.

  • Education and Outreach: WMAs often play a role in environmental education and outreach programs. They provide opportunities for the public to witness ecosystems, wildlife conservation, and the importance of preserving natural habitats.

  • Control of Invasive Species: WMAs may be actively involved in managing and controlling invasive plant and animal species. This helps prevent the spread of non-native species that can provide an imbalance in native flora and fauna.

  • Buffer Against Urbanization: As urban areas expand, WMAs can act as buffers, preserving natural landscapes and preventing the encroachment of human development into critical wildlife habitats.

  • Climate Change Resilience: Preserving diverse ecosystems in WMAs can enhance the resilience of natural systems to climate change. Healthy ecosystems are better able to adapt to environmental changes and provide crucial services, such as carbon sequestration and water filtration.

“That’s what I like most about WMAs,” Bradley says.“They are designed and managed to preserve special places where wildlife can thrive.”

Sandhill Cranes enjoying the sun near Anaconda, MT (Photo: Susi Stroud)
Breathtaking photos from JustaClick Photography by Susi Stroud will be on display in Pintler's Portal Hostel beginning mid-May and through the Wings of Conservation event May 17-19. For developing details, follow us on facebook.

Anaconda’s WMAs

Over the next several weeks, we’ll explore each of six WMAs within 10 miles of Pintler’s Portal Hostel. The habitat, the wildlife species, the immense acreage, accessibility, seasons and experiences. Join us. It promises to be a magnificent journey.

Wildlife Management Area




Mount Haggin



Garrity Mountain




Blue-eyed Nellie




Stuck Ridge




Lost Creek




Warm Springs








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