Why do the Wilks want to get rid of the inholdings?
As any farmer or rancher will tell you, it is simply more efficient to control an operation with consistent ownership. This is a good business decision for us, and we’re providing a rare opportunity for the BLM and State of Montana to address a specific public access issue in the Breaks.
Why not just open Bullwhacker Road to the public?
The Wilks’ had previously committed to opening the road as a show of good faith in working towards a land exchange deal. Even though discussions with the BLM have been temporarily derailed by some special interests, the Wilks will open Bullwhacker Road for hunting season this year as long as the BLM is actively considering the current proposal.
Allowing public access across private property comes with challenges, so this is likely a short-term scenario until a more desirable arrangement can be reached.
Texas has large tracts of private land with commercialized game and hunting. Are you trying to replicate that here in Montana?
The Wilks’ are interested in re-establishing a premier Black Angus ranch at the N-Bar. Commercialized hunting on the N-Bar is not part of the business plan or vision the Wilks have for the ranch.
Will the Wilks’ allow public access to the N-Bar?
The public already has access to the N-Bar, which hosts area youth who have completed their hunter safety training, veterans sponsored by Wounded Warriors, and through donated hunts to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The number of hunters hosted by the N-Bar already exceeds the number who gain access to the Durfee Hills by helicopter.
Elk populations are already well beyond targeted numbers around the NBar and Anchor ranches. How will these herds be managed when even more land is locked up in private ownership?
We are currently discussing management concepts with representatives from state and federal wildlife agencies, as well as conservation groups, and will develop a plan for management of the elk herds that reside on our ranches and migrate onto public lands. We envision a collaborative approach with neighbors and wildlife management agencies, and will share the details of those plans as they are fleshed out.
Locals say that the N-Bar hosts the most significant elk herd in the area, and opening up access from Red Hill Road to the west doesn’t really benefit them much. Is that comparable hunting ground?
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation purchased a 40-acre parcel several miles north of the subject Red Hill Road parcels, which improve public access to the Big Snowy Mountains. News reports at the time explicitly stated the benefits of this acquisition by improving access to “prized elk” and “some of the finest elk hunting in America.”
This small but critical piece of land offers both big game habitat and exceptional access to public land that supports a prized elk population,” said Gary Bertellotti, FWP Region 4 supervisor. . . . “This is a big win for hunters and other members of the public because there was realistically no easy way to reach this part of the Snowys. This public access will allow hunters to play a more active part with management of an elk herd that is over objective.” added [David] Allen, [RMEF, President and CEO]. “It’s a true payback to our members who put so much time and effort into the organization and it lets them have access to some of the most incredible country in central Montana.” (RMEF blog, October 23, 2013)
“The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Red Hill acquisition is in an area renowned for huge bulls, large herds, and unfortunately, extremely difficult public access,” says [Randy] Newberg. “It is some of the finest elk hunting in America. All hunters benefit from acquisitions such as this; just one of many RMEF has completed while quietly going about its business of protecting key elk habitat and improving public hunting access.” . . . The Big Snowies have developed a dubious reputation as a place where hunters who can afford to hire a helicopter to fly into landlocked public land can have epic elk hunting. But who among us has the money or the will to airlift themselves into a trophy bull? Here’s where the RMEF really works for rank-and-file hunters. By working together with Montana FWP, the Forest Service, and local landowners, RMEF negotiated a way around this longstanding impediment. (Outdoor Life, September 17, 2013)
Who currently holds the permits to hunt the BLM inholdings in the Durfee Hills?
Most of the Federal Lands in this exchange are in hunting district 530 with only a small portion being in 411. Anybody that draws a permit and is in compliance with state and federal laws and regulations to hunt Federal lands. From there they need legal access.
Why have the sportsmen been left out of the discussion?
No one has been left out. The Wilks’ have had preliminary discussions with the BLM and just recently submitted an initial proposal for BLM consideration and public comment. In our view, no one should be attempting to unduly influence the BLM until everyone has a complete understanding of all the details of the initial proposal.
Why should anyone consider giving up access to prime elk habitat as a benefit?
The current use of the BLM inholdings on the N-Bar is extraordinarily limited – precisely because of difficulty of access. Today’s list of users is limited to those who either own aircraft or have the financial means to charter a helicopter into the property. We believe improving access to tens of thousands of acres of public lands is inherently more beneficial to the general public, but is also much more consistent with BLM’s mandate to manage properties for multiple-use. Collectively, the USFS property in Fergus County and the Breaks in Blaine County provide much greater opportunity for recreational opportunities, and a much broader range of hunting opportunities than afforded by the isolated tracts in the Durfee Hills alone.
Why should the BLM entertain this proposal given the petition opposing the action?
We welcome ideas from the public on how we may improve the proposal, but the petition was produced and signed by many individuals before any details were ever submitted to the BLM and unfortunately many of the emotional reasons for people to sign were based on misinformation. We have spoken with several people who signed the petition but after reviewing the proposal, now support the exchange.
How does the current proposal differ from the one submitted in April?
Wilks have included additional access easements on the east side of Red Hill Road to improve public access to USFS properties in the Little Snowy Mountains. Wilks are also working with MFWP to develop an elk management strategy for the NBar that will go hand-in-hand with the exchange.