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State preparing to buy Milk River ranch

Associated Press Modified: November 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm •  Published: November 19, 2012

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state Land Board approved plans Monday to buy a Milk River ranch on the Canadian border in order to expand recreational opportunities, despite opposition from neighbors who argued the deal was being pushed through with too little comment.

Two state agencies together will be buying the 4,500-acre ranch north of Havre for close to $6 million. Most of it will be managed by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for hunting and fishing, while the rest will be managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to generate money for schools.

The state said the land will provide tie-in with other lands to place a 40-mile segment of the Milk River under public ownership. The board, chaired by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, unanimously approved the plan Monday.

The state says the land will provide habitat for a variety of game animals, from pheasant to elk. It will help ensure a wildlife habitat corridor between animals north and south of the international border, while also preserving archaeological and paleontological history found on the Milk River ranch owned by Aageson Grain and Cattle.

The FWP portion of the deal, which will require approval from that agency's commission, is close to 3,000 acres and costs about $4.7 million of habitat money. The DNRC portion is about 1,500 acres, costs about $1.1 million and is contingent on the FWP buying its piece.

That DNRC will generate money for the school trust, primarily by leasing the land for agricultural uses. It expects an annual return of 3 percent on the land for the state schools trust.

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