BLM has broken faith with the Public
Wilks Land Proposal

What's at stake for the Public?

Please sign the "Save Our Durfee Hills Public Lands" Petition

Click to enlarge Durfee Hills vs. Bullwhacker Comparison

 

Update: BLM Durfee Hills Not Lands Identified For Disposal

Update: 2nd CD of BLM Bullwhacker Access Public Comments

I received a 2nd CD from MT BLM FOIA of 191 additional pages of Bullwhacker Access Public Scoping Comments.

Chart showing comment profile and totals. Only 25.67% wanted a Wilks Land Exchange, but 61%, clearly a majority, wanted either an east or west side bypass road to be built to restore public access to the Bullwhacker.

Also, the Central Montana District Manager, Stan Benes, left BLM on Friday, Oct. 2nd.

Update: MISSING Files Bullwhacker Access Federal Public Comments Record

At the bottom left column, I have chronologically detailed my July 29th BLM FOIA request for all the sign in sheets, meeting minutes and all public comments submitted on the Bullwhacker Access process. I received my FOIA on Sept. 4th, BUT, the 112 page Bullwhacker Access Public Comments PDF is MISSING substantial public comments from a federal public record that were against a Wilks Durfee Hills land exchange, including mine and others that I had copies of. I have notified upper BLM and D.C, as well as Sen. Tester's office of the missing comments. If your comments are missing, regardless of position, if you are willing, please forward your comments to me so that we can rebuild the missing records. Please do not forward them to BLM at this time, to force them to come up with ALL the missing records, not just what we provide them. If they dont know what we have, we stand a better chance of getting all the records restored if they still have them. Below are the 49 commenters.

 

The Public was told by BLM in good faith that, "The Bureau of Land Management... has begun the process required to reestablish road access into the Bullwhacker Coulee area of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument." " '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.' " "An environmental assessment is expected to be available by May. The goal is to complete the decision process in summer 2015."

Please contact Bureau of Land Management State Director Jamie Connell jconnell@blm.gov , 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.

Major 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.

The Durfee 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 Hills lands.

Mid April the Central Montana Hunters delivered the petition signatures to BLM State Director Jamie Connell in Billings.

Sept. 26, 2014, BLM 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 them. "

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 jconnell@blm.gov , 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.

__________________

Public 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 Proposal
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 draft itself.

1.Where's 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.

We can have our public access into the Bullwhacker AND the Durfee Hills. We dont have to give up one for the other.

2. Wordsmithed - 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" private tracts.

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.

3. Working 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 the BLM 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 1st mtg),
Montana Wildlife Federation (Dave Chadwick 2nd mtg),
Montana Stockgrowers Association (Errol Rice 1st, Jay Bodner both),
Montana Farm Bureau
,
Montana Farmers Union,
Friends of the Missouri River Breaks (Hugo Tureck rancher near the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument ),
Montana Wilderness Association (Mark Good), Montana Audubon Society (Dan Bennett?),
United Property Owners of Montana (Chuck Denowh 1st mtg),
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 areas.

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 documentation.

 

 

Personally, I'm not feeling their "improved public access to public lands".

4. Formal 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.

5. Existing 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 Durfees.
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.

6. Elk 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.
Opportunities: 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 have both!

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.
Another example, in the fall of 2014, the Wilks purchased the Diamond Ranch in Rosebud County. This land had previously been in Block Management. As soon as they purchased it, they removed it from Block Management.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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