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Drug Dealer’s Ranch Is for the Birds

BILLINGS GAZETTE

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CODY, Wyo.--It’s said that Stewart Bost had a lifelong dream of owning a ranch in Wyoming.

He accomplished that by the time he reached his mid-50s, but thanks to past misdeeds, a healthy dose of overconfidence and a dash of greed, the Beartooth Ranch would not be his retirement home.

Nobody could have foreseen how Bost’s dream, the Colombian drug trade and squabbles over fishing access to the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River would result in an outdoor education center for the Bighorn Basin.

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Bost made his fortune as a boat captain in 1986, carrying 3 tons of Colombian cocaine from the Bahamas to Florida. In 1988 he bought the 657-acre Beartooth Ranch for $1.3 million. Using the alias Allen Stewart, he could not be found when federal authorities indicted him on smuggling charges in Florida the following year.

Back in Wyoming, it might have seemed strange that this ranch owner paid all his bills, including his property taxes, in cash. The stakes went up in 1995, when Bost blocked access to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s fishing easement on the Clark’s Fork.

The local inquiry into the easement dispute revealed that Bost used an alias, and led to a federal investigation that culminated with his arrest in 1996 on the smuggling charges. The Justice Department seized his ranch as an ill-gotten gain of the drug trade and later transferred title to the state of Wyoming for the benefit of public recreation and wildlife.

Audubon Wyoming signed a lease with the state last fall and is currently developing its plan for managing the ranch as a nonprofit education center.

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Mention the drug smuggler to Neil Miller of the Meadowlark Audubon Society and you get a brief chuckle, followed by grand ideas about the future of the ranch.

“It’s a marvelous opportunity,” he says.

The ranch sits at the base of the Beartooth Range in a curl of the Clark’s Fork as it exits the canyon and heads north into Montana. It abuts public land that extends from the ranch’s western border to the Shoshone National Forest.

Overgrown fields recall a time when the ranch was actively used in agricultural production. Audubon is planning to manage the ranch for wildlife habitat and education. Miller envisions various public uses, from day trips by local schools to more intense field studies by Northwest College.

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“Fishing access is right down along that river, and we expect to have hunting access,” he said, explaining that the existing ranch buildings could be expanded someday to allow for extended field studies. “Duke University’s geology class could come out and use it as a base camp.”

Audubon is still studying how to pay for the operations and maintenance as well as any future renovations. Facilities include a large home, an insulated garage, a dilapidated, roofless cabin and the original log homestead, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century. All sit in an old grove of cottonwoods.

Audubon expects to start using the ranch this summer. Members spent part of last year improving the irrigation system, and revegetation of the crop fields will begin this spring.

Local Audubon board member Dennis Saville conducted a tour of the ranch for about a dozen people recently. He estimated the total acreage formerly tilled for agriculture at 160 acres.

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Returning those fields to their natural state could take centuries, he said, kicking up a couple inches of loose dirt that extended across a barren and brown field. Sagebrush and grasses flanked the field on either side.

“Once you get to a point like this, it’s not going to come back on its own,” he told the group.

The poor soil condition is one reason why large-scale agricultural operations are unlikely at the site, although Audubon hasn’t ruled out plots of an acre or two for educational purposes. Saville said some members have talked about demonstrating some of the old farm equipment located on the site.

He estimates the cost of reclamation at $30 an acre just to toss out some native seed by hand and rake. To do it properly would require major farm equipment and could cost upward of $125 per acre, he said.

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“With good luck and favorable weather, I would say that within four to five years you could have the bulk of that ground looking like native habitat, but I don’t think you are ever going to remove evidence that the ground was tilled,” he said.

As for drug smuggler Bost, the rumors probably will never die. One story has it that he hinted to investigators that he had money buried on the property. After he was released from prison last year, a hole appeared at the base of a fence post near the ranch house. Miller said he was there the day Game and Fish officials found it.

“At the bottom of that hole was a five-gallon-type bucket and an old shovel,” Miller said.

As yet, nobody has ‘fessed up to digging the hole.

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