Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Inexcusable Shrinking Crazy Mountains & Other Access Issues

Click map for larger version

Recently touted as a “made-in-Montana compromise”, this 3rd land exchange proposal (east-side of the Crazy Mountains) is anything but – let's call it what it is – a big money sellout.
For the public trust's sake, here are the tip of the iceberg points, and how these land exchanges are shrinking the Crazy Mountains.
  • Tom Glass (Western Land Group, Inc. representing the Yellowstone Club) was in discussions with Custer Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, on a proposed land exchange in Big Sky. Glass was informed that the land they offered the FS, was not an equal exchange, they would need to come up with the value balance.

  • Supervisor Erickson directed Glass to look to the Crazy Mountains for the value balance needed. My FOIA requests confirm Glass met with Supervisor Erickson and Regional Forester Leanne Marten, during stated time period.

  • On February 10, 2020, Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat, our Friends of the Crazy Mountains plaintiffs and attorneys attended a private meeting requested by Glass and Jess Peterson (Western Skies Strategies), involving their proposed eastern Crazy Mountains land exchange they were creating for the Forest Service. This presentation was also given to numerous groups, shopping for buy in.

  • Glass stated they did not believe a NEPA process would need to be conducted and were leaning towards a Congressional legislative exchange, rather than administrative, potentially steamrolling the process and reducing opportunities for public involvement. Glass registered as a Congressional lobbyist, on behalf of Yellowstone Development, LLC, on March 1, 2020, to lobby on “Land Exchange Legislation”.

  • Not only does this east land exchange ignore the approximate 100 year old public access existing trail system, abandoning a crown jewel Sweet Grass Trail to privatizers, it also moves the trails to much steeper elevations, limiting users who can physically access the trails. This proposal, as the others, ignores the fact – the public already HAS ACCESS: historical prescriptive easements, Northern Pacific Railroad grant deeds, and RS2477 public access, if only the FS would simply do their job to defend it from private landowner obstruction.

To summarize what got us to this point:

2015, Responding to Sen. Daines, concerning Trail 115/136, Erickson wrote, “The Forest Service maintains that it holds unperfected prescriptive rights on this trail system as well as up Sweet Grass Creek to the north based on a history of maintenance with public funds and historic and continued public and administrative use.”  
2017, As landowners objected to Sienkiewicz's multiple-use management, Custer Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, began shifting Forest Service management, away from previous long-held FS positions defending and maintaining public access in the Crazies.  
June 16, 2017, District Ranger, Alex Sienkiewicz was removed, after Sen. Daines wrote to Ag Sec. Sonny Perdue, including landowner false allegations. After public outcry and an investigation, Sienkiewicz was re-instated, but has not been involved with any proposed exchanges.  
2019, The east and west-side are currently in litigation; south-side exchange is sitting after majority public comment opposition; this east-side exchange has not formally been presented to FS yet.  
Taken as a whole, between east and west-side obstruction requiring litigation, proposed southern exchange, now the east proposal, we're seeing the inexcusable shrinking of the Crazy Mountains, a theft from the public's hands. 
To view a satellite map with existing trails and proposed trails, go to EMWH.org, to view shrinking of the Crazy Mountains. 

While collaboration and finding solutions is great, as a public trust researcher and advocate, not only do I disagree with the east-side proposal and its faulty foundation, I feel Supervisor Erickson's directing of the Yellowstone Club's involvement and money towards the Crazy Mountains is appalling, exacerbating an already flammable situation. 

Please contact Senators Tester and Daines, Rep. Gianforte- tell them, “Do not legislate the East Crazy Mountains, it must go through the administrative process, the public must have input. 

Kathryn QannaYahu, Founder of Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat

The east-side land exchange proposal group already held their first meeting in Livingston. A member of the public attended their tabling event and was told by one of the groups members, that the Sweet Grass Trail #122 is open to the public now and has never been limited. 

This is absolutely not true. My FOIA documents show repeated threats and harassment against those that did trail maintenance work and you can view the landowner posted sign ( East Crazy Mountain obstructions page - 4th image, black and white) saying the public had to request permission and sign in.

And don't forget the harassment picture of the public who did not sign in or ask permission, in Chris Solomon's article, The Fight for Public Land in Montana's Crazy Mountains.
The landowners blocked them in by parking inches in front and behind their vehicle to harass them.


Another reminder, these trails were affirmed in the 2006 Forest Service Travel Plan, Crazy Mountain portion, which some of the involved landowners protested in court, resulting in the Court upholding the Travel Plan.

Additionally, here are the links to the Forest Service Release of Easement Interests on the west-side, easement interests we have been saying all along the public already had, which the Forest Service used to defend and we are having to litigate to enforce and in the West Crazies, need to be restored to the Public.

I am currently researching another Yellowstone Club connection in this East Crazy Mountains land exchange proposal.

A couple weeks ago, following up on an old Forest Service communication I thought was an error, involving Crazy Mountains public access, part of which is on Sweet Grass Trail #122, I went back to the Park County Clerk & Recorders office and found more landowner conveyed public access deeds. This reroute moves the public away from a portion of stream access fishing of Sweet Grass Creek, privatizing it.

As Brad Wilson has rightly asked, "Would these landowners give up their Historical Water Rights without a fight?"

Why is the Forest Service giving away our easement interests on a 100 year old trail system, instead of defending and maintaining them as they did before 2017?

        "A federal judge has halted the U.S. Forest Service’s plans to log and do other fuels    reduction work in portions of an inventoried roadless area near Helena...the agency’s plan ran counter to environmental law and rules."
        Congratulations Gayle, I know you put a lot of work into this.

"On Monday, the Montana Land Board voted unanimously to approve the addition of 600 acres to the 9,000-acre Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area."

  • Bullock, Tester push back on Pendley appointment, A day after Montana Gov. Steve Bullock sued to remove acting Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley from his post, public lands advocates and Montana’s Democratic senator are calling for hearings on Pendley’s nomination to lead a federal agency responsible for managing millions of acres of public lands, saying he is unfit for the position.
  • Tester Bill Would End No-Bid Oil, Gas Leasing on Public Lands, What happens when an oil or gas lease on Bureau of Land Management land goes up for auction and no one bids on it? It isn't taken off the market.

    Instead, oil companies can buy the lease for the low price of a $1.50 per acre. That's why Sen. Jon Tester - D-Mont. - is introducing the Leasing Market Efficiency Act, which would eliminate the practice of non-competitive leasing.
  • Judge recommends halt to BLM project in Elkhorns, A U.S. magistrate judge has recommended that a Bureau of Land Management prescribed burning project in the Elkhorn Mountains be halted as a court case proceeds.

    Judge Timothy J. Cavan made the recommendation Monday on BLM’s Iron Mask Project northwest of Townsend in response to a lawsuit from Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council. The case will now need to go before a U.S. District Court judge for a final determination.

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Thank you,
Kathryn QannaYahu
Helena, MT