Friday, June 23, 2017

Alex Sienkiewicz Removed as Yellowstone District Ranger

Damned if you do, Damned if you don't...

Photo courtesy the Billings Gazette

East Crazy Mountain Public Access webpage (under construction)

I have been dealing with a situation since Monday. It is a side trail of a bigger issue I began researching in the spring of 2015, about 3 years ago - the intentional obstruction of public access to our public lands in the Crazy Mountains, most specifically, the East Side. I spoke with the Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz about trails, marked maps, took photos of much older maps. Periodically, I dig back into this situation which has been ongoing for decades.

Some of this research was presented at a BHA meeting this last fall in Bozeman. Rob Gregoire had drawn an elk tag for one of those hunt districts in Sweet Grass County. He scouted the FS Trail 115/136. After his scouting trip, I placed a FS FOIA for that area.Then Gregoire went back to hunt, on returning he was met by a deputy issuing him a criminal trespass citation. Shortly after I received my FOIA, which had abundant documentation of the public aspect of the trail. So I set up a webpage with his story, to help defend his case for public access (thank you to all those that contributed to Rob). See, Rob had taken every effort to avoid intentional trespass, including verifying the trail with Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz. But the Department of Justice would not allow Sienkiewicz, nor the Custer Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson from testifying during Rob's hearing, without that testimony, everything was hearsay and my FOIA documents were after the fact.

The first deal the Sweet Grass County Attorney Pat Dringman offered to Rob included his paying $250 to the local Crazy Mountain Stockgrowers Association and another $250 to the Montana Farm Bureau (page 2). That pissed me off, this smacked of corruption. What did either of those two groups have to do with Rob's case??? So I wrote an oped - Crazy Mountain Public Access Fight, including that Pat Dringman's wife, Page Carroccia Dringman, owned the ranch at the top end of the FS Trail 115/136 (who has been obstructing access on that end), suggesting Dringman needed to recuse himself. Rob settled for a deferred prosecution, no guilt.

Then I found out that on June 16, 2017, Yellowstone District Ranger, Alex Sienkiewicz, was removed from his position for doing his job, which included advocating on our behalf in the frickin' Crazy Mountains; this removal was authorized by the newly sworn in Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (April 25, 2017), who was recently here in Montana on a tour.  You might think that with the whole nations ag business to deal with, our local District Ranger doing his job would not be a top priority for him. Sienkiewicz's removal really pissed me off, so I contacted PLWA, Hunt Talk, hunter/anglers across the state and Brett French who had written on some of these Crazy Mountain issues before, giving French the beginning of some documents for proof and the basics. French wrote a detailed article: District ranger faces internal investigation over Crazy Mountain access dispute

I began setting up the web pages to deal with the documentation - y'all know - I play the long game. This is rudimentary right now, but I will be setting this up interactively like I did the Durfee Hills map so that you can see who all the players are, timelines and documents.

I have a letter from the Montana Farm Bureau Federation with false allegations against Alex Sienkiewicz, which they sent to Senator Steve Daines, who then forwarded it to Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell and carbon copied Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Region 1, Regional Forester Leann Marten (Montana in Missoula) on May 26th. Another letter, May 29th, from a handful of the landowners adjacent to the FS, some of which outfit like Page Carroccia Dringman and Chuck Rein, Vice President of Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, was sent to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue and Senator Daines, with many of the same accusations against Sienkiewicz - who then gets removed as District Ranger for doing his job.

Here's the thing - 2 public land hunters: Joe Rookhuizen and Rob Gregoire, contacted Senator Daines about their public access issues in the Crazy Mountain. But privatizing landowners get in touch with Daines, with false allegations and no investigation into a certain matter and Daines is reaching out as far as the Secretary of Agriculture for his removal? Seriously?

These privatizers are not just targeting Alex Sienkeiwicz, they are making him the poster child for any employee who does their job, their public trust stewardship for the public, they are targeting all federal employees - "Do your job and this will be your fate".

One of my FOIA documents spells out one of Sienkiewicz's responsibilities he was fulfilling for the public:
2002 Briefing Paper, National Forest System Trails Across Private Land, Gallatin National Forest

The growing demand for dispersed recreation on public lands, and the changes and trends in private landownership, have brought considerable attention to the trails issue on this Forest. At an increasing rate, landowners are questioning the status of trails across private land. Private land within and adjacent to this Forest continues to be sold. New owners may or may not recognize the existing public access through their lands. Some trails on private land are being lost through subdivision, closure or obliteration.

As a result, it is critical for the Gallatin NF to continue to have a strong and consistent policy and presence in: (a) signing and maintaining our trail system across private lands; (b) defending historic trail access rights if challenged; and (c) perfecting trail access rights across private lands whenever that opportunity exists.

In the Direction and Policy section they wr
ote, “Under FLPMA and FSM 5460 direction...In situation where an existing NFS trail crosses private lands, and no deeded easement exist, the Forest Service position is as follows: The United States has acquired a right-of-way from the trail through development, maintenance and continuous use of the trail. As a matter of law, the Forest Service believes that there is a public access easement for the trail. The Forest Service is a beneficiary of this public right of access, will continue its efforts to defend the public's right of access.

(1) Protect and maintain historic evidence, including trail blazes, signs, maps, photos and maintenance records.

(2) Maintain and sign the trail on a regular basis, and keep records and photos of this maintenance, and

(3) Take prompt action in the event that landowners threaten or take action to close or obliterate the trail.

As PLWA Vice President John Gibson (retired Forest Service) roared, “Don't reassign him; I say, CLONE HIM! You need more rangers with the intestinal fortitude to protect and enhance access to the national forest.”

Certain Sweet Grass County landowners threatened and took action to close or obliterate public access FS trails in the Crazy Mountains. They have also threatened and taken action against our public trust District Ranger, Alex Sienkiewicz, who was following FS Direction and Policy in defending our public trust from privatization –  doing his public trust job. 

I beg you to show the same level of defense for our public access and Alex Sienkiewicz's
reinstatement as Yellowstone District Ranger, by raising your concerns to the same officials that the privatizers just did with false allegations. Because when you see the roll out of information to come and the players agendas, you will agree, this isn't just about one man and his job, it is about what he was doing as a steward of our public lands that others greedily desire for their own.

Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20250 (202) 720-2791

Forest Service Chief, Thomas Tidwell,   (202) 205-8439

Region 1, Regional Forester Leann Marten,   (406) 329-3315

Custer Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson,  (406) 587-6949

Senator Steve Daines,   (202) 224-2651

Even though Sen. Tester was not evident in the letters, please contact him as well.
Sen. Jon Tester,   (202) 224-2644

Thank you,
Kathryn QannaYahu
Bozeman, MT


  1. Thank you so much for this amazing work! Alex is my brother-in-law and is passionate about defending public access. He is as principled as he is smart.