Thursday, July 6, 2017

How TX Rep. Pete Sessions is going after your Federal Public Land Access Across and Lands

Texas Representative Pete Sessions' Letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue

On June 7, 2017, US Representative Pete Sessions from Dallas (R-TX) wrote to the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, carbon copying the Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (Montana) – letter attached below. 

In Sessions' letter he states that Chris Hudson (Dallas), owner of the Wonder Ranch in Montana is one of his Texas constituents. There is more to this though, than a federal legislator from another state, weighing in on behalf of a voting constituent.

Sessions requests Sec. Purdue issue a directive precluding the Forest Service from acquiring prescriptive easements and disavowing the Federal agency that manages our public trust lands and resources, from filing Statements of Interest for public access to our federally managed public lands. We have a growing problem, here in Montana and in the West, of public access to our public lands increasingly being cut off. Sessions did not request Sec. Purdue look into the one issue at the Wonder Ranch, nor the current issue in the Crazy Mountains (MT). He does not directly the Crazy Mountain, but references it by the “District Ranger” issue and his forwarding of a Facebook post in question. The post is by the Public Land/Water Access Association, a Montana organization, founded by retired Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Lewis (Gene) Hawkes, whose mission is to maintain, restore, and perpetuate public access to the boundaries of all Montana public land and waters.

Under Montana law, the elements of a prescriptive easement claim are open, notorious, exclusive, adverse, continuous, and uninterrupted use for the statutory period. The public, in a variety of ways, has been utilizing trails and roads throughout the Crazy Mountains for over a 100 years. The USFS Statement of Interest asserts that it has and claims easements for the National Forest Trails over and across real property.

Rep. Sessions did not investigate the false allegation against Alex Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz is a dedicated public trust Forest Service employee, who until recently held the position of the Yellowstone District Ranger. The YDR administrates our public lands in the Crazy Mountains, in the northern part of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. If Sessions had investigated the false allegation that Sienkiewicz posted, “in an official capacity” to PLWA's Facebook page, before he passed it on in his official capacity, he might have easily found out that former FS District Ranger Sienkiewicz did not make the post. It appears, the individuals and groups utilizing this Facebook post, are simply using what they thought, was a “gottcha” moment to springboard to their real objectives involving our public lands.

Sessions also alleges that USFS Region 1 went rogue during the Obama administration, calling it a “war on private property owners conducted by the Obama administration”. This is simply a dog whistle, having nothing to do with Obama or his administration.

Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat Forest Service FOIA documents (1, 2, 3) show that prescriptive easements and Statements of Interest have been used by our Federal land agencies for decades, well before Obama became President in 2008.

So why is Rep. Pete Sessions getting involved with some public land access issues here in Montana? And why is Sessions requesting newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue take such drastic nationwide actions as precluding the Forest Service from acquiring prescriptive easements and disavowing the Federal agency from filing Statements of Interest for public access?

Could it be because another land owner, with private land adjacent to our FS Crazy Mountains public lands, Monzer Hourani from Houston, TX, is a major contributor of his? Hourani, a real estate developer who specializes in medical, biotech and pharmaceutical design and construction, owns the Montana Eagle Ranch (Montana Ranch Corp., I did a search with Montana Cadastral), on the northwest side of the Crazy Mountains. Hourani is not just a contributor to Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), but a major contributor, supporter and friend of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). In fact, Hourani (CEO Medistar Corporation) broke Federal election laws contributing to Hatch. Hourani was fined $10,000, “Hourani next caused Hatch headaches when he broke federal election law to benefit his friend. After Hourani had given the maximum personal donations to Hatch allowed by law, he gave more money to employees and asked them to donate it to Hatch in their own names.”

Hatch is listed as #3 in a Top "Public Lands Enemies" in Congress report: Fifteen Federal Lawmakers From Eight Western States Plotting to Seize, Dismantle, Destroy and Privatize America's Public Lands. “Between 2011 and 2016, Senator Orrin Hatch sponsored or cosponsored 19 of the 48 anti-public lands bills we identified, making him Public Lands Enemy #3.” Sen. Hatch's website states, “The Federal Government owns most of the land in Utah – making decisions without even consulting state and local officials. This is an outrage...” Hatch is part of the movement to transfer or sell our pubic lands to the States, boasting, “As a leader in the Sagebrush Rebellion, I've been fighting to turn federal lands in our state over to Utahns to own and control.” What Sen. Hatch does not understand is that the American public owns those lands, our public trust, which the Federal government manages on our behalf. 

Senator Orrin Hatch knows our Crazy Mountains up close and personal, having been a guest at Monzer Hourani's property there. To experience all that the Crazy Mountains has to offer, has become limited by certain landowner efforts to close public access to the FS public lands. No one should have to rely on a landowner's hospitality or have to pay as a client, just to access these public lands. Perhaps Texas Rep. Pete Sessions received more than just campaign contributions from Hourani, but also enjoyed his Montana Eagle Ranch hospitality, adjacent our public lands?