BILLINGS, Mont. -- The Bureau of Land Management has purchased 3,000 acres of the former Devil's Canyon Ranch to complete the public acquisition of the scenic property in Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains.

The ranch was subject to a bitter dispute more than a decade ago when its former owners closed a road through the property. That cut off access for several years to 20,000 acres of BLM and U.S. Forest Service land.

The BLM on Thursday paid $2 million for the final piece of the ranch along the Montana border. It was sold by the Trust for Public Land, which bought the 11,000-acre property in 2003 to put into public ownership.

"The BLM is thrilled to have this in place," agency spokeswoman Sarah Beckwith said Monday. "This is last piece of the puzzle and it really opens up a lot more land to the public."

No campgrounds or other developments are planned, she said, adding that "it will probably just stay natural."

Beckwith said the area already has a travel management plan designating which areas are open to motorized vehicles.

Portions of the original ranch, still in private hands, are listed for sale as a "recreational trophy ranch" that could be subdivided.

But Alex Diekmann with the Trust for Public Lands said the BLM now controls the most coveted pieces.

"We got the piece that the public most wanted," he said. "We took the high country with the scenic and cultural and wildlife values."

The ranch's former owners, the Bischoff family, in 1998 closed a road through the property that had offered the only access route for federal lands in the Big Horns.

The Big Horn County Commission filed a lawsuit to reopen the route, but lost its case in federal court.

In 2003, after the Trust for Public Lands had taken hold of the property, the late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas helped arrange $4 million in federal funds to buy the initial 8,000 acres. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also contributed to that deal.

Money for last week's purchase came from the federal government's Land and Water Conservation Fund. The BLM says the land will be managed as part of the Craig Thomas Little Mountain Special Management Area.

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