I am responding to Bill Thackeray’s letter regarding the Milk River Ranch, which is three miles from my property in the Milk River Breaks.
Thackeray is puzzled why farmers would be upset at the price paid for the ranch. He contends it should only make our land more valuable. If only that were so, I’m pretty sure you can buy almost any land you would like in northern Hill County for the price the state paid. Why would farmers sell this tightly held land that they have lived on for generations? It’s very simple; the state didn’t just overpay, they threw money at the deal like a 90-year-old billionaire trying to seduce a 21-year-old Playboy bunny.
Even as recreational property the ranch should have sold for one-third of what it did, and I’m not even including the dubious paleontology and archeology rights sale.
For those that don’t know the university system was supposed to pay an additional $2 million for those rights. (Who knew teepee rings were so valuable?) My understanding is the rights were valued at considerably more than $2 million, and the difference in the purchase price and the appraised value of those rights were to be donated to the University system. This part of the deal was to remove any tax liabilities from the sale. We end up with a ranch selling for several times what it was worth and most likely completely tax-free as well. The state should sell lottery tickets that pay so well.
The second thing that really made me mad was the speed and secrecy of the deal.
The state must have set a record in getting this deal done. Our ex-governor must have personally carried the paperwork from office to office to slide it through so fast. Some of the circumstances of how the sale progressed through the system were very unusual and gave me reason to question the process.
To put the frosting on the cake the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation bragged about the return on the investment in this purchase from agricultural revenue. Imagine the return on investment if they would have paid a reasonable price.
Eventually the neighboring landowners finally found out about the sale which was nearly completed, and allowed to comment, the comments were overwhelmingly against the sale. If you look at the list of property owners that have closed their land to hunting because of this fiasco, you will see a lot of very large operators who are very smart businessmen. They handle their money well and believe the state has an obligation to do the same. The money spent to purchase this land came from every hunter and taxpayer in the state. The state should have purchased land that would have given the most hunting access for the least amount of money. Instead they paid for a new Mercedes and brought home a very used Pinto. Honestly, the money was spent so poorly here you would have thought the federal government was involved.
Closing our land to hunting is the only thing we have at our disposal to make Fish, Wildlife and Parks pay attention to us. The bureaucrats won’t listen to us, but when their budgets start to decrease, suddenly they remember who they work for.
I hope that hunters who are upset by these closures take the time to look into what Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been doing with their license fees. FWP needs to learn it works for the people of Montana and our tax dollars are not a slush fund for the governor to play with.
I won’t bore the readers of this letter by going into rebuttal about Thackeray’s socialist views on land ownership or his literary attempt to kumbaya his way to a mythical golden pond while finding oneness with the great outdoors
I’ll just answer his question: Why can’t we just all get along? It looks to me that the folks in northern Hill County seem to be getting along just fine. If you go visit with these people you will find they are of many political persuasions and yet have come together to protest this land purchase. It takes a lot to get these people riled up, and even more before they turn to action, so if they are taking a stand you had better pay attention, because something stinks in the north country.
(Mark L. Wicks is an author and rancher from Inverness.)