Wednesday evening the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks held a public hearing to discuss their proposed purchase of a nearly 28,000 acre ranch near Deer Lodge. The following article is a recap of that meeting from Phil Drake with “Montana Watchdog.” For information on the FWP’s proposed purchase of the Spotted Dog Ranch, please read “MT FWP Could Soon Purchase 28,000 Acre Ranch.”
Governor’s role in proposed land sale called into question
BY PHIL DRAKE, DEER LODGE
The governor’s role in the proposed purchase about 28,000 acres near Avon for $16.5 million was called into question Wednesday by several residents at a public hearing.
“This thing smells,” said Carl Nyman of Anaconda, who said he came to the meeting thinking that buying the land would be a good idea. “Now, I’m not sure.”
And the former head of the state Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department, the same agency proposing the deal, said he opposed the funding source the state wants to use.
More than 100 people packed into the Deer Lodge Community Center to hear the proposal by the FWP to use funds overseen by state Natural Resource Damage Program to buy the Spotted Dog Ranch. The land, owned by Y-T Timber LLC and under lease to purchase by Rock Creek Cattle Co., is bordered on two sides by national forest property. Plans are to turn the ranch into state wildlife management area and have seasonal public access.
Officials said the proposal qualifies for NRDP funding by restoring or replacing resources injured by mining and smelting in the Upper Clark Fork basin. But it requires amending the NRDP’s grant process o get funding outside the regular NRDP grant cycle. But criticism arose after residents learned Gov. Brian Schweitzer was first contacted by Rock Creek Cattle Co., which was going to buy the property from Y-T for $9 million and then sell it to the state for about $15 million. The remainder of the $16.5 million price tag would be for other costs, such as maintenance, officials said. The governor reportedly asked the FWP to look into the matter.
“It’s a political cram down,” Nyman said. “It undermines the credibility of the governor’s office … and the department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.”
Mike Thompson, state regional wildlife manager with FWP, said the property had been appraised for about $15 million. And Carol Fox of the NRDP said the sale was being “expedited” because of the nature of negotiations.
Jim Flynn, a former FWP director, told state staff he opposed using NRDP funds to buy the land. Flynn, who is also a former chairman of the NRDP Citizens Advisory Committee, said he had to balance two loyalties. “If you look at the funding source there are problems,” he said. “The priority (for NRDC money) should be for restoration.”
The state is expected to reach a decision by late August.
Source: Phil Drake, Montana Watchdog
Posted by Haylie Shipp