The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation announced Thursday that the agency has decided not to proceed with the Dana Ranch land exchange after completing an initial review and public scoping.
“Based on our preliminary evaluations, along with consideration of the public comment received, we will not be taking this proposal to the Land Board,” said DNRC director John Tubbs, in a press release.
Tubbs noted public comments submitted on the proposal raised two key issues: the comparative market value of the two properties, and the projected income from the X Hanging Diamond Ranch, the property DNRC would receive in exchange for 14,136 acres of school trust lands within the boundaries of the Dana Ranch.
“The law is clear that any property we might acquire be of equal or greater value than the property we give up,” Tubbs said. “The acquired lands must also produce equal or greater revenue for the school trusts. These are fundamental criteria and after looking at the proposal closely, there’s uncertainty about whether they can be met.”
Those financial elements, along with concerns raised by the public, were the main factors in the decision not to proceed.
DNRC last month initiated a public scoping process for the land exchange proposal, which was submitted to the agency by the owner of the Dana Ranch, David Killam, the CEO of Killam Companies, a family-owned Laredo, Texas-based oil, gas and real-estate business. Killam's ranch is located in Cascade and Meagher counties. He had a buy-sell agreement with the owners of the X Hanging Diamond Ranch contingent on the land exchange being approved.
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A total of 14,136 acres of school trust lands are located within the boundaries of the Dana Ranch and exist in a checkerboard pattern, interspersed with private holdings. Offered for exchange was the 14,405-acre X Hanging Diamond Ranch, located in Fergus County.
DNRC held public meetings in Cascade and Winifred to outline the proposal and collect public comment; both meetings were well-attended, with 65 people at the Cascade meeting Feb. 19, and more than 50 at the Winifred meeting on Feb. 20.
The land exchange process requires DNRC to conduct a preliminary screening process, then offer the proposal for public comment, before asking the Land Board for authorization to carry out a more in-depth review.
“The public process really worked,” Tubbs said. “There were several issues identified at the meetings that we needed to evaluate further.”
DNRC will continue to maintain a dialogue with the owner of the Dana Ranch.
“I believe it’s in the best interest of all parties to seek an exchange proposal that provides more certain and sustainable benefits to the public trusts,” Tubbs said.