Points To Address
1. BLM Trespass Regulations
- No Land Exchange - BLM
Regulations state, a land use authorization or disposal of public
lands (i.e., sale or exchange) may not be accomplished until the
trespass is resolved.
Hills are still under investigation for multiple types of documented
trespass, including fencing encroachment and damage to public lands,
which BLM has not filed with the Federal Register yet, much less
begun any type of resolution process, which could take years. Therefore
the Durfee Hills cannot be sold or exchanged until the trespass
process is complete. H-9232-1 Realty Trespass Abatement
Chapter V. Realty Trespass Resolution. "A
trespass is resolved when the unauthorized activity is terminated,
settlement of trespass liabilities are agreed to by the Bureau and
the trespasser or established by court order, liabilities have been
paid, improvements removed, the land rehabilitated and stabilized,
and the case closed."
2. NO Formal EIS/NEPA
process on the Bullwhacker Access Road - Most sportsmen
and other members of the public are under the false belief that
BLM had already begun a formal EIS/NEPA process on the Bullwhacker
Road access restoration. They have not.
Through efforts spearheaded by the Central Montana
Hunters, the Public signed an online petition created on Mar. 2,
2014, as well as hand signed petitions totaling over 1600 signatures
and public comments, which were then submitted to the BLM State
Director Jamie Connell on April 16 2014. "Montanans demand
a new road access into the Bullwhacker area without surrendering
public ownership of the Durfee Hills public land. This is crucial
to maintaining public use and benefit of vast areas of public lands
in Central Montana." As a result, the BLM rejected a Wilks
land exchange proposal that involved trading away the BLM Durfee
Mid April the Central
Montana Hunters delivered the petition signatures to BLM State
Director Jamie Connell in Billings.
Sept. 26, 2014,
published a press release concerning the BLM starting the process
to restore access to the Bullwhacker, with contact information,
purpose and 3 scoping meetings at the beginning of Dec. It also
stated, "A proposed land exchange to restore access was considered,
but was determined to be not in the best interest of the American
people who have entrusted the BLM to manage their public lands for
BLM announced on Dec. 24, 2014,
2nd press release adding another scoping meeting in Billings on
Jan 15, 2015, that they were going to add an additional scoping
meeting in Billings. At that meeting BLM Central Montana District
Manager Stan Benes brought up a possible land exchange with the
Wilks, where Darryl James, the Wilks rep mentioned the Durfee Hills
as part of a proposed land exchange (audio
of meeting - 27:18, "As Mike mentioned
we've got the 3 alternatives. We got the east side, we got the west
side, we have No Action and we are considering No Alternative of
Trails. I think that's a non motorized what they've suggested. And
the other one is to entertain a land exchange. Again, not necessarily
the same one that came up, but if we go to that alternative, we
need something that will work. That's why Im saying we need to get
opinions together. Blaine County, Fergus County, the ranchers, the
folks may call it collaboration. It can work, but it takes a lot
of effort. So we're willing to entertain that exchange thing again
and it might well be one of the alternatives. Is that fair, Mike?"
28:10 Benes introduced a representative
of the Wilks, Darryl James, with an offer to the discussion of entertaining
a land exchange. James then discusses that the Wilks are interested
in pursuing a land exchange, mentioning, "...when the Wilks
approached the BLM, a couple years ago, it really was about, how
can we get rid of this nuisance inholding, within the N Bar, we'd
just like to consolidate our ranching operation, get rid of these
inholdings,..." Part of that "inholding" are the
9 parcels, 2777.97 acres, that make up what is generally referred
to as the Durfee Hills.
As a result of this meeting and the land exchange
discussion, I began looking at the BLM "process" and realized
BLM was actually conducting a preliminary process, not a formal
EIS/NEPA process, otherwise, they could not add scoping meetings
with an additional alternative midstream without filing a notice
of significant change and provide a 30 day comment period, which
they did not do.
Click images to enlarge
First, I had been watching the Federal Register/BLM
for the Durfee Hills Trespass investigation and Cadastral Survey
every day and no Notice of Intent had been posted since the end
of Sept. thru the end of Jan., but I went backwards through July
of 2014 just to make sure - nothing on the Federal Register stating
a formal BLM EIS/NEPA (BLM
NEPA Handbook and BLM
Land Use Planning Handbook) process was begun on the Bullwhacker
Road (BLM NEPA Handbook, pg. 12, section 1.3 - "The EIS process
is initiated with publication of a notice of intent (NOI) and requires
public scoping.". Then I called Mike Kania, the BLM Monument
Manager, in charge of the Bullwhacker Road process to check if there
had been a posting to the Federal Register I missed, he confirmed
there was not and since I still check it everyday for the Durfee
Hills survey and investigation, there has not been a notice for
the Bullwhacker. I called Mike Kania Friday, July 11th just to make
sure I didnt miss anything and Kania confirmed that BLM has not
formally begun the EIS/NEP process for the Bullwhacker Road Access.
On Jan. 31st, the Lewistown News Argus reported
a story. As to an exchange proposal, BLM's District Manager Stan
Benes brought up a possibility of an exchange being entertained
at the Billings Jan 15th meeting, contrary to their press releases
and again in an interview with the Lewistown
News Argus Jan. 31st (pgs 1&5), "Whether or not there
is an official land exchange proposal, one thing is certain, Benes
said: the BLM will not wait long before moving forward. 'If the
Wilks brothers or anyone else can come up with a land exchange proposal
in the next three months or so, we’ll entertain it,' Benes
said, 'but if we don’t hear anything we will move forward
with a road proposal.' James (the Wilks representative) said he
is not concerned with the BLM’s timeline, as he is optimistic
a land exchange can be put together before the BLM is ready to proceed
with an environmental assessment for a road project. Once the proposed
land exchange is ready, James said he plans to hold meetings on
it in Central Montana."
The end of May proposal deadline came and went
with no formal proposal being delivered to BLM from the Wilks. Then
I heard BLM had extended the deadline to the end of June. Again,
that came and went. I called Benes the end of June to catch up on
a couple things. One, the Durfee Hills investigation is still "ongoing".
I asked about the deadline passing on the land exchange, being extended,
about to pass again and was told by Stan Benes that the Bullwhacker
Road access is "not a priority" for BLM at this time,
contrary to his statement in BLM's
Sep. 2014 press release, "Public access to public
lands continues to be one of BLM Montana/Dakotas’ top priorities,”
said Stan Benes, the BLM Central Montana District Manager. "Our
charge in this particular situation is actually to restore the access
the public historically had for many decades." He explained
that they were a man down in the office, that there were other priorities
they were tending to, that they didnt have the finances for a new
road, at which point I reminded him that RMEF
had offered to contribute to a new road, as had others (Great Falls
SCI willing to contribute manpower and money, Traditional Bowhunters
of Montana is committed to contributing, Pacific Steel and Recylcling
in Lewistown offered the culverts at cost and Allied Steel has offered
to pay for those cost culverts.) and even construction.
That was dismissed.
"The 60-day scoping period will begin with
public scoping meetings tentatively scheduled for Great Falls Dec.
2, Chinook Dec. 3, and Lewistown Dec. 4. An environmental assessment
is expected to be available by May. The goal is to complete the
decision process in summer 2015." So for all the sportsmen
that thought these 4 scoping meetings in Dec. 2014 and Jan 2015
were formal, this is not correct.
BLM is not pursuing a new Bullwhacker
Access Road at this time as they told the public they were doing!
Please contact Bureau
of Land Management State Director Jamie Connell firstname.lastname@example.org
, asking that the BLM repair this breach in the Public Trust, file
the formal Notice of Intent with the Federal Register, to officially
begin the EIS on reestablishing road access into the Bullwhacker
Coulee area of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Information Request for Bullwhacker Scoping Comments:
July 14, 2015,
in an email conversation with BLM's Stan Benes, I stated, "As
to the preliminary public scoping meetings, I am aware of Hugo Tureck
and Beth Kampschror's (Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument)
advocating for a Wilks Durfee Hills land exchange. According to
various friends that attended one or more of the meetings, I believe
that Hugo Tureck attended each of the 4 meetings making the same
statement. Today, in the Great Falls Tribune, there was an article
on this potential land swap, with a statement by BLM's Jonathan
Moor, " 'The public overwhelmingly said they wanted us to reconsider
a land exchange as a possible alternative,' Moor said." I listened
to the audio of the 4th meeting in Billings and there was no "overwhelming"
public request for a land exchange, as was the opinion of a number
of attendees I polled from the other 3 meetings.
Since this can has been opened, I
would like to request electronic copies of the sign up sheets and
minutes from each of the 4 preliminary scoping meetings, and the
public comments submitted to BLM by the beginning of March. I enjoy
data mining and it will be interesting to see what the majority
of the public really had to say at the meetings and in submitted
comments. If I need to make an official FOIA request of these public
documents, please let me know and I will file one immediately."
Benes did not reply to my public information
request, so during a documentation trip to Lewistown on the 22nd-24th,
I went into the BLM office to speak with Mike Kania, the one in
charge of the Bullwhacker access project and recipient of all the
public comments. I called early that morning, requesting the sing
in sheets, minutes from the meetings and all public scoping comments
submitted to the BLM. Kania said he would have to see if he could
give me copies, so we set up a meeting for later at 1:30pm. When
I went in, I asked again and was told the same thing, he would have
to check for permission. He said he didnt know why I wanted them,
that they had abandoned that process and were pursuing the land
exchange alternative. I told him that was public information, that
I had a right to and I wanted to see the values expressed and the
stats from them. He said that he had not even read them, they were
printed out on the corner of his desk in a pile and they had no
statistics on them. Two days later, I still had not heard back from
him. Figuring I was getting no where with public comments I filed
my FOIA request on July 29th, but I sent it to
D.C, rather than the Montana office since they still havent given
me the first one from Nov. 13, 2014.
On Sept. 4th, I received a
CD with part of my July 29th Bullwhacker Scoping process public
information. Of the 112 page PDF included, pages 1-86 were public
comments. There were 54 comments. 5 were from Clint Loomis, though
he had submitted three separate comments, the BLM duplicated 2 of
the comments twice. The majority of the comments supplied in my
FOIA are Friends of the Monument and the Montana Wilderness Association
members advocating for a Wilks land exchange.
Here' the problem
- we are MISSING a substantial amount
of public comments that were submitted to a federal public record!
Mine was missing. Mark Schwomeyer's comment, the president of the
Central Montana Outdoors, who also requested these comments from
the BLM office, is also missing, as are numerous other people who
either carbon copied/forwarded me their comments. The common denominator
is that we all either advocated for an east side road access to
be built or no action, but no Wilks land exchange.
So on Sept. 7th I emailed all
the upper BLM, including D.C., as well as Senator Tester's office
in D.C., explaining the chronology and asking where the missing
comments were, providing a link to the PDF of the comments supplied
by BLM so they could see mine and another were not there. I did
not list all of the known missing comments.
On Sept. 8th, I received this
reply from BLM 's Jonathan Moor, "Thank you
for bringing to our attention that there appears to be records missing
from the public comments you were provided through your FOIA request.
This is very concerning to us. We have begun looking into this apparent
discrepancy. I just returned to work at the Lewistown Office today
from a multi-week wildfire assignment. In my in-box were the original
public comment forms Deb DeBock received from Mike Kania in response
to your FOIA request, which she sent back to us after processing
your FOIA request. I looked through the forms and could not find
any from you, nor could I find the second comment from the USFS
employee advocating for the retraction of his first comment, which
you reference in your email below. Deb process whatever we give
her and returns it to us. Therefore, I suspect any missing records
are here in Lewistown.
Right now, most of our office records
are in boxes and not in their original locations, because our building
is being painted and re-carpeted. Additionally, we have personnel
who are away or are scheduled to be away this week and/or the next
two weeks. I will try to have a clear answer for you ASAP about
the whereabouts of any records currently missing. If you have not
heard from me or someone in the BLM by Sept. 29, I will contact
you with an update about the progress of our search."
Here is the BLM
PDF Bullwhacker Public Comments and sign in sheets FOIA.
If you are missing, please forward
me your comments, so we can rebuild the missing records, regardless
of position - please do not send them to BLM
at this time, to force them to come up with ALL
of the missing comments, not just the ones we can account
for at this moment.
October 1 I received a
2nd CD from MT BLM FOIA with 191 pages of additional missing
comments, some of which were duplicates. I
have analyzed the two sets of comments - 189, putting them together
on a PDF. 25.67% advocated for a Wilks Land Exchange and 61%,
clearly a majority, advocated for a bypass road, either on the east
or west side to be put in to restore Bullwhacker access.
Wilks Brothers Land Exchange
Draft Proposal Points
Recently, Darryl James, a Wilks
representative, convened a working group to discuss their land
exchange proposal with BLM. Their private working group met twice;
the first meeting in Helena in April, and the second meeting on
July 9, 2015 in Great Falls (less attended this second meeting
than the first).
The byproduct of these meetings
was the current
draft version of the Wilks Brothers land exchange proposal they
will be submitting to the BLM. There are a number of points
that need to be made before addressing the particulars in the
our Bullwhacker access road? - First, we need to understand
why the Public is experiencing a Bullwhacker access road restoration
stall, when Stan Benes, the BLM Central Montana District Manager
previously stated in their Sept. 26, 2014 press release, "Our
charge in this particular situation is actually to restore the
access the public historically had for many decades." And,
"The Bureau of Land Management announced today, it has begun
the process required to reestablish road access into the Bullwhacker
Coulee area of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument."
The Wilks have stated before
others and in this document on PDF pg. 6, that when the Wilks
bought the NBar and other central Montana properties, they sought
to consolidate their inholdings. "The Wilks' made further
inquiries about the land exchange process and asked BLM to identify
potential properties that may be of interest. BLM noted the legal
dispute and the loss of access to the Upper Missouri River Breaks
National Monument and suggested that the Anchor Ranch might be
an ideal candidate for exchange if it ever became available."
So the Wilks bought the Anchor
Ranch to trade for the Durfees that are near the center of their
ranch, only because they have bought up all the land surrounding
it, per advice from BLM in the Lewistown office.
I believe this is the source of the conflict we are currently
experiencing in getting the Bullwhacker Road access restored.
have our public access into the Bullwhacker AND the Durfee Hills.
We dont have to give up one for the other.
- This proposal is carefully wordsmithed to make it look like
the Wilks are putting more on the table for the public than they
actually are, especially that which is permanent and binding.
This is all about getting the Durfee Hills, a collection of BLM
parcels now surrounded by Wilks land.
For example, on PDF pg. 4 they
insinuate, "This document has been prepared to officially
petition the BLM to initiate a formal review of a land exchange
proposal involving large tracts of private inholdings
in and around the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
(Monument or Breaks Monument), and small, isolated
federal inholdings within the NBar Ranch."
So let's take a look at the tracts
in the chart on page 11. The largest Federal Durfee Hills tract
is 2,785 and the largest Wilks tract is 2,243. That makes the
largest federal tract, which the Wilks are trying to portray as
"small", 542 acres LARGER than the largest of the "large"
Additionally, if we give up the
Durfees, we dont just lose access to 3858 acres of public BLM
land that we can access, but the connecting Montana State DNRC
parcels (640 acres each X 2 = 1280), for a total loss of 5138
acres (these are just the publicly accessible acres we would lose,
there are 1,010 additional isolated tracts the Wilks would gain),
when the Wilks are only offering 5,252.
Group - Under the Executive Summary,
PDF pg. 2, it states, "This proposal reflects the shared
interests of the Wilks’, the BLM and a broad array of landowner,
sportsmen, conservation and recreation groups who have engaged
in constructive dialogue in an attempt to satisfy as many needs
and desires as possible, while still achieving the overall goal
of the exchange."
Darryl James organized a privately
chosen work group to promote their proposal, to make it appear
as though it has broad support from a number of different stakeholders.
Previously, a petition protesting against trading away the Durfee
Hills for access in the Bullwhacker, garnered over 1600
signatures, is very much in opposition and represents numerous
stakeholders against a Durfee Hills land exchange.
Why is this now being ignored? The signatures of the petition
were submitted to BLM's State Director Jamie Connell. As a result
announced in August, that they were no longer considering a land
exchange with the Wilks to restore access to the Bullwhacker.
The following organizations that
participated in the Wilks working group in some capacity, are
listed on pg. 7:
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (Blake Henning
Montana Wildlife Federation (Dave Chadwick 2nd
Montana Stockgrowers Association (Errol Rice
1st, Jay Bodner both),
Montana Farm Bureau,
Montana Farmers Union,
Friends of the Missouri River Breaks (Hugo
near the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument ),
Montana Wilderness Association (Mark Good), Montana
Audubon Society (Dan Bennett?),
United Property Owners of Montana (Chuck Denowh
Montana Pilots Association (Chuck Jarecki),
Russell Country Sportsmen (John Borgreen), Montana
Sportsmen's Alliance (Joe Perry), Recreational
Aviation Foundation (Jeff Patnode 1st),
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (Sonja Smith
Region 4), then some individual sportsmen from the Havre and Lewistown
The Wilks proposal states, "The
majority of the participants see tremendous value in the proposed
exchange and are committed to an open dialogue that would ensure
not just an equitable exchange of land, but one that also guarantees
improved public access to public lands."
Some questions -
Were the participants polled
or was there a vote to determine majority?
Were the participants told
that the public already has access from Red Hill Road to the
east side of the Big Snowies in about 6 places? Map
Were the participants made
aware the number of trespasses and damages that the Wilks did
to our public lands in the Durfee Hills, erecting a non BLM
regulation fence without a survey when they found out they would
not be receiving the Durfees in the last exchange discussion
in the summer of 2014? Click image for interactive map with
Personally, I'm not feeling their "improved
public access to public lands".
NEPA Process? On page 3 they state, "BLM has initiated
the review of several new roadway alignments inside the Monument
under a formal NEPA process."
This is not correct, as I stated in the left
column. No formal NEPA process has begun. BLM would have to start
that process by registering a Notice of Intent with the Federal
Register, which I check every day for the Durfees investigation
to be posted and even went back to July to see if one was filed
for the Bullwhacker access. I just confirmed with Mike Kania again,
on July 11th, that they have not begun a formal process and filed
a Notice of Intent with the Federal Register.
Access - part of what this land exchange proposal is trying
to sell the public is that we would gain increased access. Again,
we can simply build this Bullwhacker Road tie in and gain that access
back, far cheaper than trading away valuable public access in the
On Page 8 it states on the 5th
bullet point, "A parcel including over 1,000 acres of private
parcels on the west side of Red Hill Road, in Fergus County, would
be transferred to BLM to provide greatly improved access to over
10,000 acres of USFS properties to the west..."
What this document is not telling
you is that we already have a number of public access points on
the west side of Red Hill Road to BLM and USFS lands. There are
4 in Fergus County and 4 in Golden Valley County.
Management - On page 18 of the draft proposal, the Wilks
state, "Both the Anchor Ranch, adjacent to the Monument, and
the NBar, in the Snowies, play host to some of the largest elk herds
in the state."
The BLM Durfees are in the Snowies
Elk Management Unit (EMU),
Hunt District 530. The elk counts in 2014 were 3142.
Opportunities: There are
3700 archery permits valid in the Durfee Hills. 200 Either Sex
Permits valid both in the Archery & General Seasons. 4500
B Licenses (Antlerless elk in addition to your general Elk license)
Cow elk & Spike Bull valid with your general elk license in
511 & 530 (Durfee Hills)
Total: 8400 total permits valid
in the Durfee Hills – UNLIMITED Spike & Cow
The Wilks Anchor Ranch is in
the Bear Paw EMU, HD 680, which is combined with
HD 690 in counts. 2014 elk counts for 680/690 were only 832.
35 archery permits valid in the Bullwhacker. 35 general season either
sex permits valid in the Bullwhacker. 25 antlerless B licenses (youth
only) 300 antlerless B licenses.
Total: 395 total permits.
Now if you were an elk hunter,
which area would you rather have public access to? The Durfee Hills
HD 530, 3142 elk and 8400 permits or the Wilks Anchor Ranch in HD
680/690 with 832 elk and 395 permits? As I stated up above, we can
Additionally, there is also what the Wilks
idea of "game management" involves, one of the reasons
they stated for purchasing their ranches. The Wilks
Brothers Game Ranching info.
7. Block Managment Carrot
- Stated on pgs. 3 and furthered
on 18, "IF the BLM takes up formal consideration of this proposal,
Wilks are willing to open managed access for the fall 2015 hunting
season." No arrangement with FWP is permanent, it is solely
at the whim of the Wilks. They could pull out of any Block Managment
agreement at any time - their right, their decision.
An example, on
April 29th 2014 it was reported, " 'Wilkses are going to
open that Bullwhacker Road back up,' said Jimmy Williams, a representative
of Wilks Ranch Montana LTD... Reopening the popular road, which
is used by elk hunters in the fall and other recreationists, is
a 'good faith gesture to benefit the public, Williams said."
On May 3rd another article came came out that stated the Wilks felt
blindsided and the Bullwhacker access remained closed and has been
since, which is their right as private landowners, their decision.