MATT GOURAS

Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- The commission that oversees the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks agrees it would be a good idea to buy a 28,000-acre ranch near Deer Lodge for hunting, fishing and recreation.

The panel unanimously approved the idea Thursday, saying it presents a unique opportunity to put prized elk habitat into public ownership before it is closed off.

The $16.5 million to buy and pay for maintenance at the Spotted Dog Ranch would come from the state Natural Resource Damage Program.

That group, which manages money aimed at replacing resources lost to mining in the Upper Clark Fork basin, will vote later this month on funding the purchase.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has already voiced support for the plan, will have the final say.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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