BLM, Wilks fence dispute settled

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

The fenceline put in at NBar ranch is now being moved off BLM land.
 
Photo courtesy of Kathryn QannaYahu

 
In the construction of the fence, BLM trees were cut.
Photo by courtesy of Kathryn QannaYahu

 

Billionaire brothers and NBar ranch owners Farris and Dan Wilks are making headlines again, as the Bureau of Land Management Billings and Lewistown field fffices settled a trespass claim involving “the construction of a fence that inadvertently encroached on public lands in Fergus County.”

The fence dispute, which began in the fall of 2014 after the fence was build to prevent public land hunters from crossing into private property, has come to a close following a federal investigation led by BLM.

“There has been a formal finding of trespass,” Wilks consultant Darryl James said. “BLM followed the letter of the law to conduct their investigation.”

Now, the fence will be moved and altered, despite Wilks Ranch Ltd. representatives originally denying the fence encroached onto BLM land.

“Wilks Ranch believed the fence to have been constructed in accordance with their direction to place the alignment several feet inside the NBar boundary,” James wrote in a news release published last week.

This problem, according to BLM Chief of Communications Al Nash, was nothing more but human error.

“Our inquiry showed this was simply a mistake,” Nash said “My understanding is [Wilks Ranch Ltd.] hired a contractor to do some work and that contractor apparently didn’t have the most high resolution information to recognize where the boundary between private and BLM-managed land was.”

The error, Nash said, resulted in “some fencing on and some damage to BLM-managed lands.” However, an agreement has been reached.

“The Wilks have agreed to cover costs associated with our inquiry,” Nash said.

 

An amicable solution

Under terms of the agreement, this means Wilks Ranch Ltd. “will perform rehabilitation and stabilization valued at approximately $150,000 (which includes cost for lost timber on public land) and reimburse the BLM a little over $71,000 to cover costs associated with the inquiry and survey.”

James told the News-Argus the $71,000 goes directly to the Lewistown office. An additional amount was paid to the Billings field office last month.

Throughout this process, Nash said, the BLM had no problem working with Wilks Ranch Ltd.

“This has been a very amicable negotiation,” he said.

Farris Wilks echoes similar sentiments.

“Good fences make good neighbors, and where we’ve made an error in building our fence, we’ve been more than willing to make appropriate adjustments and address the unintentional disturbance that our crews caused,” Wilks said in the release. “We regret our error in the location of the fence and all the fuss it’s caused over an otherwise common ranch management tool, but we’re pleased to have come to a point where we can agree with BLM on how to move forward cooperatively, and put this unfortunate incient behind us.”

 

Clearing up the controversy

Although an agreement has been made, this issue has not been without its controversy, as sportsmen noticed the fence was out of compliance and complaints ensued.

“BLM received multiple calls from trophy elk hunters who have become accustomed to flying into isolated BLM parcels surrounded by the NBar Ranch,” James wrote in the release. “Elk hunters alleged the new fence to be off alignment by several hundred feet.”

According to James’ release, the BLM surveyed just less than nine miles of newly constructed fence and found that about one-third “did in fact encroach on BLM lands.”

“The encroachments varied from a few feet to around 20 feet at most, and resulted in ground disturbance and loss of timber on just under 5.3 acres of BLM land,” James wrote in his release.

Doug Krings, a representative of Central Montana Outdoors, said he is pleased with the adjustments to the border fence near the Durfee Hills – an elk hunting area located in the Little Snowies – but he is surprised by some of the comments made in the release regarding the frequency of trespassing.

“We question Mr. James’ statement in regards to repeated trespass, when we cannot confirm any trespass citations have been written in the Durfee Hills area,” Krings said.

James said the Wilks “have not pursued citations for a number of reasons,” and added that their only intention with building a fence was to “make it clear where the uneven boundary lies in very difficult terrain and hopefully reduce the incidence of trespass in the future.”

Krings said he understands the intent.

“Private landowners have every right to do whatever it takes to properly manage their land,” he said. “Central Montana Outdoors has and always will respect private property rights.”

Those wanting more information can view the Resource Damage Assessment and the settlement agreement between the Lewistown Field Office and the Wilks’ at http://on.doin.gov/29Z53L1.

 

 

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