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Montana ranch dispute with federal government settled



LEWISTOWN, Mont. (AP) – A dispute between the owners of a Montana ranch company and the federal government has been settled, but some people are still not happy about it.

Wilks Ranch Montana Ltd. has agreed to repair damage caused when fences were put up on federal land that destroyed trees and vegetation. The company said it will also reimburse the Bureau of Land Management about $70,000 to cover costs for the inquiry and a survey.

The fence was built at the NBar Ranch in Fergus County in the Durfee Hills. The Bureau of Land Management surveyed nine miles of a new fence and said about a third of it was on federal land. The survey was ordered after elk hunters complained.

Doug Krings, of Central Montana Outdoors, said someone should have been cited for trespass on the ranch in the Durfee Hills area, and the landowners should have been treated the same as hunters who cross boundaries and trespass on other peoples’ land.

The Billings and Lewistown BLM field offices each filed a trespass case and then entered into negotiations with the owners to reach an agreement on how to resolve the dispute.

Ranch spokesman Darryl James said the portion of the fence that was encroaching on federal land has been moved and the issue has been resolved. James said the encroachments were inadvertent and varied from a few feet to around 20 feet and only affected about 5 acres of BLM land.

The fence was built in 2014 to mark the boundaries between private and BLM land to prevent hunters from straying onto private land. Hunters use helicopters to reach the land-locked area accessible to the public.

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