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Rumors that a new fence built by the Wilks brothers around Bureau of Land Management acreage in the Durfee Hills encroached on federal property have been stifled after an agency investigation.

In a BLM press release, the agency said its staff was granted permission last week by the owners of the surrounding N Bar Ranch in Fergus County to investigate the encroachment reports. After BLM staff conducted a flyover and ground visits using a survey-grade GPS, no encroachment was found.

BLM staff found that in some instances when a personal-use recreational GPS was compared to the more accurate survey-grade GPS, the recreational GPS errantly showed some areas to be on BLM-managed land.

The Wilks brothers, who purchased the N Bar Ranch in 2011, had proposed a land exchange earlier this year with the BLM that would have given the brothers the landlocked Durfee Hills in exchange for other tracts they owned. The BLM denied the request after local hunters decried the offer and petitioned the agency to reject the exchange.

Since then, the Wilks brothers have offered another exchange proposal, but the BLM said that pursuing any such measure is too expensive and requires too much manpower, and rejected it without consideration.

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The only way for public hunters to access the Durfee Hills is by airplane or helicopter, which limits public access. Since the area was featured in a television hunting show a couple years ago, it has drawn more attention and use. This archery season, unsubstantiated reports from hunters accused the Wilkses of building a fence that blocked elk from entering the public land, patrolling the boundary on ATVs to scare elk away from the property as well as allowing hand-picked hunters access to the federal property where they parked RVs on the BLM roads used by pilots to land, escalating tensions between public hunters and the landowners.

Fly-in hunters use the Durfee Hills to hunt one of the state’s largest elk herds, which Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks considers over its population management objectives for the hunting district. During the BLM investigation, aircraft landing and take-off tracks were found off-road on BLM-managed lands in the area, caused by fly-in hunters not affiliated with the landowners.

“No permanent damage was caused, but the BLM is stepping up our efforts to educate pilots and others on our travel management policies, which require motorized vehicles to stay on existing roads and trails with few exceptions,” explained Geoff Beyersdorf, field manager of the BLM Lewistown Field Office.

With increased visitation expected during hunting season, BLM law enforcement rangers have increased patrols in the area.

For more information, contact Beyersdorf at 406-538-1918.

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