The federal agency that was looking at a potential land swap to open access to the Bullwhacker area in southern Blaine County said that swap is off the table.
Bureau of Land Management announced in a press release Monday that it was no longer considering the swap proposed by brothers Dan and Farris Wilks, wealthy Texas businessmen with large amounts of land in central and north-central Montana.
"The Bureau's preliminary assessment of a (variety) of land exchange options found no viable option that would garner substantial public support or be in the best interest of the American people who have entrusted the BLM to manage their public lands for them," the release said.
A 2011 court ruling denied public access to Bullwhacker Road across private land had provided access to thousands of acres of federally owned land.
The Wilks brothers - who made much of their fortune in oil development and developing and selling hydraulic fracturing technology such as is used in the Bakken Formation in northeastern Montana and eastern North Dakota - proposed swapping that and other land with the BLM in exchange for BLM-owned land including the Durfee Hills, a popular hunting area in the midst of the Wilks brothers' land in Fergus County.
BLM took the Durfee Hills out of the proposal after a major hue and cry arose about the land going into private hands.
Representatives of the Wilks brothers said earlier this year that access to the Durfee Hills is limited to by air, saying that meant almost all of the people hunting on the land were wealthy out-of-staters.
A BLM representative in May said the Durfee Hills had a long history of public access, which was one of the reasons it was taken out of the proposal. Another possibility to provide access to the Bullwhacker would be developing a BLM-owned two-track road that runs close to the road on the Wilks brothers' property, shutting down other roads to make up for the increase.
In Monday's release, BLM said it is not giving up on finding increased access to the Bullwhacker.
"Public access to public lands continues to be one of our State Director's top priorities," BLM Central Montana District Manager Stan Benes said in the release. "BLM staff are now looking at what other feasible options may be available to explore, and the public can expect to hear from us soon on that front."
The release said BLM will initiate a public process in which people will have several opportunities to participate in a resolution long-sought after for restoring motorized public access to the Bullwhacker Coulee area.
For more information about access to BLM-managed lands people can contact Realty Specialist Jim Ledger at 406-329-3733, or online at http://blm.gov/ptld. People can send an email to email@example.com. BLM news and updates are available on the web at http://www.blm.gov/mt, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BLMMontana, or on Twitter @BLM_MTDKs.