Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Clearing Up Crazy Mountain Public Access Muddy Waters

"For the record, let's make it clear what this dispute is all about... it is about private individuals
shutting off lawful public access in order to expropriate public lands
for their exclusive use and personal gain."
~ US Deputy Assistant General Counsel, James B. Snow

 Clearing Up Crazy Mountain Public Access Muddy Waters
First, I would like to thank Senator Jon Tester for his recent public letter to USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue and Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell concerning Crazy Mountain public access, prescriptive easements and Alex Sienkiewicz's removal as Yellowstone District Ranger.

I have been working on getting the more complex organization of the Crazy Mountain Public Access section set up and more documents uploaded. Sen. Tester's letter has been added to the Letters section. Here you will also find the three public hunter's letters to Sen. Steve Daines, with 2 including Sen. Tester. 2 of the 3 received no response from Sen. Daines, while Gregoire was told by staff that Daines could not get involved, yet, when certain private Crazy Mountain landowners wrote to him, he not only got involved, he sent unsubstantiated false allegations to the highest level of the Forest Service and USDA. Why is that? This appears to be causing concern to others, including 2 lifelong Republicans, who expressed they will not be voting for Daines or Republicans, "Out of necessity, I’m becoming a 100 percent independent voter because my Republican party keeps trampling my family’s outdoor heritage."

7/31/2017 Daines' actions in Sienkiewicz case are despicable
7/31/2017 Daines tramples Montana's outdoor heritage

To make these Crazy Mountain matters very clear, I respect and uphold private property and their rights, including their right to restrict access to whomever they desire. But, I also greatly respect PUBLIC property and our rights to the lands, water and the access, which includes our historical prescriptive roads/trails.

Recently an oped was in the papers, which I feel did a disservice to the public access issue in the Crazy Mountains and the  public in general. The opinion piece said we need to, "provide incentives and financial support for landowners who wish to allow access to their land. This provides opportunity for hunters, and it benefits landowners by controlling the damage that elk, deer and other game cause to crops and fences."

We already have historical access in the Crazy Mountains, we should not pay for access that has been increasingly stolen, a "taking" from the public, like an extortion racket. My FOIA documents show that for decades, the Forest Service has repeatedly tried to negotiate to work with these particular landowners cutting off access, to no avail. In fact, on the east side of the Crazies, Hunt District 580, the elk objective is 975. Do you know what last years elk count was in that public access restricted hunt district? 4,616 elk. This year's count was 4,846! Now according to the Elk Management plan, if elk are being harbored, you know, the kind of harboring that outfitters boast about on their websites, that such concentrations increase their clients success rate, those harbored elk are to be removed from the count.

The oped also trotted out the same list of landowner programs they always do when landowner issues arise, such as Block Management. Block Management's intent is not a bandaid to public access theft or harbored elk. These programs are great for certain landowners, in certain circumstances. These privatizing, access obstructing, often outfitting landowners do not want BM, they probably make far more money off the outfitting.  As to Unlocking State Lands, anyone can take a look at the public Montana Cadastral program, the Forest Service map or hunting landownership maps to see there are no State blue lands in the interior of the Crazy Mountains. So why bring these things up? It simply is not applicable and muddies the waters of what is really taking place. More importantly, those programs do nothing to address year round public access to our public lands, not just hunters.

The oped also plays on the false stereotype of landowner vs recreationist, the haves vs the have nots. That is not the case. These access obstructing landowners are hurting other landowners as well, including some who sold them their lands!

For example: In response to a 1999 letter from Chuck Rein of the Rein Anchor Ranch about the Sweet Grass Road/Trail being signed (pics above I took on June 28, 2015 when I began on the ground documentation of the access obstructions), part of the road has been renamed to Rein Lane, landowners Ralph and Barbara Cosgriff  replied in 2003. The Cosgriffs were trying to maintain their friendship, but stated they were going to, "preserve our right to free and unrestricted access to our properties along Sweet Grass Creek and the general area." The Cosgriff's wrote that since 1916 their family had used the road, including commercial use,  as well as contributed to it's improvements;  as did others, including the Federal government. The Cosgriffs did not want to limit their access or that of any potential future buyer's access. "We don't intend by this letter to take any action with regard to your sign or Carroccia's sign, but we don't necessarily agree that the road is not public and certainly don't intend to restrict our future use of the road." In 2001, the Cosgriff's got in touch with USFS Frank Cifala who recorded, "Mr. Cosgriff was rather upset with a letter he had received and stated the Carroccias had gone 'too far'. The Carroccias are limiting public access across their property... Mr. Cosgriff stated he had proof that the County and Forest Service had maintained portions of the road/trail across his father-in-law's private land in the Sweet Grass Creek drainage within the National Forest." When asked if Cosgriff would be willing to exchange easements, Cosgriff replied, "...there was no need since it was a 'public road' through both." The Cosgriffs provided historical proof to the Forest Service and statements. The Cosgriff's friends and guests were at times also harassed while trying to visit them.

Another group of letters from my FOIA, involves the Van Cleves being obstructed from using these public trails to get to some of their other checkerboarded land or the public land  beyond. They were obstructed by the Langhus' of the Hailstone Ranch. So this is very clearly not a landowners vs recreationist issue, it is privatizing landowners against other landowners, the public ownership and the Federal government which manages on our behalf concerning access.

Another document I just uploaded is an affidavit by USFS Robert Dennee, the Lands Program Manager for the Gallatin National Forest in 2007. In the affidavit, Dennee discusses FS historic roads and trails, specifically the Porcupine-Lowline trail, which I did some documentation on with Brad Wilson, in the last newsletter. "In situations where continued use of a historical road or trail access route is challenged or closed, Forest Service direction and policy is also to take actions necessary to protect the existing rights to NFS lands.

The Porcupine - Lowline trail system, including Trails #195, #258, #267 and #272, is located on the southwest side of the Crazy Mountains. This system of existing historic trails crosses intermingled private and NFS lands and it continues to provide needed access to NFS lands for public recreation and for administrative purposes."

Dennee then goes on to address the need to perfect the trail access rights and specifically addresses another of the access obstructing landowners involved with the letters to Daines, Perdue, Tidwell, Marten and Erickson - that of Ned Zimmerman. Dennee states they began trying to work with Guth Zimmerman and Ned Zimmerman in 2004. That was 13 years ago.

To provide an example of another access theft by an outfitting landowner in the Gallatin Forest and the Forest Service's response, when the Forest Service wasn't afraid to do their job, as then District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz did, is a letter from US Deputy Assistant General Counsel, James B. Snow, legal counsel for the Forest Service, calling this theft what it it. Please note, this letter is not from the Region 1 OGC office in Missoula, MT, but all the way from Washington, D.C. Here are some excerpts:

"For the record, let's make it clear what this dispute is all about... it is about private individuals shutting off lawful public access in order to expropriate public lands for their exclusive use and personal gain... In 1987, the former owner of the Ranch, Mr. James Hubbard, physically cut off access over the Donahue Trail thereby effectively expropriating four sections (approximately 2400 acres) of extremely valuable Federal land for exclusive private commercial outfitting for hunting. He also constructed roads and a gate in trespass on the Federal lands, and constructed fences in violation of the Unlawful Inclosures Act..."

The new out of state landowners, who perpetuated the obstruction, leased their land to Hubbard for continued hunting outfitting. One of the 2 landowners their Ohio congressmen to attempt legislation that would force the Forest Service into a land exchange they had previously rejected as, "not being in the public interest." Snow addressed this. "Your principal exchange proposal would merely ratify your clients' trespass and expropriation of sections... The Point of Rocks Ranch wants the Government to trade it some of the last remaining sections of forested elk winter habitat in the area in return for adjacent clearcut lands. To reduce the obvious disparity in values, your clients propose to allow the Federal Government to reserve title to the timber. However, the highest and best use of those Federally owned tracts is for hunting and recreation, not timber. Therefore, in addition to the negative public impacts of your proposals, there would be a considerable disparity in valuation in your clients favor... The Forest Service does not believe that such a swap would be in the public interest because of the loss of prime publicly owned elk habitat which would be hereafter managed for private exclusive commercial hunting and recreation. We easily predict a public outcry at any attempt to exchange away any Federal interest in valuable elk winter range..."

Snow then stated the trail existed as a matter of law, that the public had a right to use it to get access to Federal lands. "Contrary to your frequent assertions, there is no taking of private rights here. The rights are already established in the general public under Montana law. If the Forest Service does not assert those rights of public access, they will be asserted by others. In fact, by letter dated July 17, 1992, we have been notified of the intent of the Public Lands Access Association Inc. (former name of of Public Land/Water Access Association - PLWA), to sue if the Donahue Trail is relocated off its historic right-of-way."

This is the type of defense we need of our public access to our public lands, from our Federal managers, who steward on our behalf. Instead, under this administration, the DOJ quashed subpoenas the FS to testify in the Gregoire case involving FS Trail #115/136 this year. Then Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz was removed from his position for DOING HIS JOB, according to Forest Service policy. Instead of out of state landowners getting their legislators to force the hand of the Forest Service to something against the best interest of the public and the Forest Service, certain Montana landowners went through Senator Steve Daines to "expropriate" (deprive an owner of their property) the public of our public access to our public lands.

On a final note, I finally got to some of the video footage shot on the west side of the Crazy Mountains with Brad Wilson, founder of Friends of the Crazy Mountains. I am having a wee bit of a learning curve with the new software. I also set up a temporary webpage for the Friends of the Crazy Mountains, who are concerned with trail maintenance, historical documentation and public access on the west side. They now have a PayPal account which also takes credit/debit cards. Please check them out. Some of you were reaching out to help with trail maintenance or historical use information, thank you, this will be helpful to restoring access.

This 4 minute video segment begins with the Shields-Lowline trail, including a statement about their meeting with then District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz and his professionalism as a public trust steward of our public lands.

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

Representative Greg Gianforte, 1419 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20515 (202) 225-3211  (you can try this, this is the one his office gave me, but mine keep coming back unable to deliver. For a technology guy, you would think he would have a functioning email address)

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Thank you,
Kathryn QannaYahu
Bozeman, MT