More than 100 people filled the Great Northern Inn's Empire Builder conference room this morning, lining the walls and overflowing out the door, listening to and commenting on the controversial Milk River Ranch proposal before the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission.
The plan to spend $4.7 million to buy 3,000 acres near the Canadian border from the Aageson family has drawn widespread objections from people who have called for outright rejection of the proposal or at least a delay for further study.
A show of hands indicated that the overwhelming majority of people attending this morning’s session opposed the plan.
People at the Havre hearing communicated via telephone conference call with the meeting that was based in Helena.
Local farmers and ranchers joined public officials, such as state Sen. John Brendan, R-Scobey, Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, Hill County Commissioner-elect Mark Peterson and Blaine County Commissioner Dolores Plumage, to share their thoughts on the sale before the commission makes a decision.
Federal funds to cover three quarters of the purchase fell through because they would not be available within the ranch landowners, David and Verges Aageson, desired end-of-the-year timeline.
Through the meeting, more than 100 people indicated, with more than a dozen stepping up to speak and others applauding, that they opposed the purchase for reasons including price, access, rushed bureaucracy, secret plans to relocate bison there and "good old boy" political favors.
Six people indicated support with raised hands. Retired Montana State University-Northern professor Bill Thackeray and John Brumley, the archeologist of the Wahkpa Chu’gn Buffalo Jump, spoke in favor.
A Missoula man said he has hunted there for the past three years and would like to continue to do so. He noted he has patronized Hi-Line businesses during those visits.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, speaking in person at the meeting in Helena, recommended first to hold another public hearing with more information and answers that were not available during the initial hearing in October.
FWP Commissioner Bob Ream ended testimony after an hour and a half.
After the crowd expressed disapproval, Brendan and Hansen asked for more time for people to speak.
Dozens more people were allowed to come up and simply state their name and position on the proposal.