Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bullwhacker Bypass Road BLM Proposal

Attention Public Land Access Advocates

The BLM Missouri Breaks Monument Manager, Mike Kania, has started an Environmental Analysis (EA) process to decide whether BLM should construct a new, by-pass road around the Wilks property to gain public road access into the Bullwhacker watershed.

This preliminary step in the EA process now ongoing is called: ‘scoping.’ In this stage BLM is gathering comments from the public that identify the strength of public support both in favor or opposed to the road construction. Scoping comments also include public proposals for options different from the BLM plan. At this stage any ideas the public puts forward are considered relevant. This is the first of several steps before a final decision is made.

The three preliminary alternatives being offered by BLM are:

  1. West Side Route – Build a new road around the west perimeter of the Wilks property.
  2. East Side Route – Build a new road around the east perimeter of the Wilks property.
  3. NO ACTION – Do not build a new by-pass road.

The scoping comment period is open until March 5, 2015
You may submit scoping comments by email to:

Send written comments by mail to:
Bullwhacker Road Comments
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
920 NE Main
Lewistown MT 59457

The public land access interest at stake

Please submit your comment supporting construction of this new by-pass road either on the east or west side. Take a stand against the ‘NO ACTION’ alternative. Unless this project moves forward no public road access in to more than 50,000 acres of public land in the Bullwhacker area will be forthcoming for the foreseeable future.

Do not be put off by talk of a land exchange between BLM and the Wilks Brothers private landowners. No land exchange proposal is currently under consideration; previous proposals have been evaluated by public hunters and found to be not in the public interest because they do not improve public access relative to the public land values being traded away.
Perhaps a good proposal will be offered and some agreement on an exchange will be reached someday, but such exchanges take many years to complete even when public interests are in agreement. Meanwhile we have no road access into the Bullwhacker.
The public access interest is very simple: build the new bypass road.

Below is a summary of important points to make in your comments


Construction of a new road to provide public motor vehicle access to the Bullwhacker Watershed is in the broad public interest.
I support construction of the new bypass road along the ‘East Side’ route described in the EA. And I urge BLM to proceed with construction as soon as possible.
  1. Historically, the public has had vehicle access to this area since before homestead.
  2. Year round motor access into the Bullwhacker is specified in the Travel Management section of the BLM Resource Management Plan for the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument. Loss of use of the original right-of-way does not constitute a modification of the BLM Resource Management Plan.
  3. BLM constructively contributed to the loss of this historic and regulatory motor vehicle access by its failure to defend the access when it was challenged in state court.
  4. BLM continues to assert an agency policy of improving public access. BLM also has cited the Bullwhacker as its top priority for achieving public access to BLM administered land in Montana.
  5. Approximately 50,000 acres of BLM land is without motor vehicle access because of the current situation in the Bullwhacker Watershed.
  6. All parties can agree that opening the original Bullwhacker Road to public use would be the best outcome. Unfortunately that option is not achievable given the full set of facts at work now and for the foreseeable future.

  • Other Points

Land Exchanges – The topic of land exchanges between the BLM and Wilks Brothers as an alternative to new road construction is irrelevant at this time.
No exchange proposal currently exists that would not produce strong public protest and/or litigation. If such a proposal ever appears it can be discussed on its merits at that time. In the meantime, BLM should proceed with the business at hand, which is construction of the new by-pass road, they can stop the road project at any point prior to construction should an alternative appear.

Feasibility of Road Construction – Construction of a new bypass road around the Wilks property is quite feasible. BLM can obtain a public-private partnership to mitigate costs and the east side route offered in the EA document is a physically adaptable route. According to BLM cost of construction on the east side route is about half the cost of the west side route.

The Bullwhacker Watershed is not an area that qualifies as being of wilderness characteristics. This is certainly a ‘backcountry’ area but it is a working landscape with human infrastructure in place – including roads, trails, fences, livestock tanks, permanent corral structures and energy extraction infrastructure. The natural features of the Bullwhacker are valuable and worth preserving. But these characteristics realistically are not diminished by a new road running parallel with an existing road for five miles along the top of the area’s main ridgeline. The Montana public always has accessed this area by motor vehicle.

Bullwhacker Bypass Road BLM Proposal alert created by Ron Moody