Friday, May 24, 2019

Watchdogging our Montana Public Access

Crazy Mountains
Yesterday, I was listening while two friends shared with me their stories of a Mountain Goat hunt in the Crazy Mountains. One of the hunters spent nearly a months worth of days, becoming intimately familiar with the Crazies' Forest Service trails.

I stopped him after a moment, pulled out my Crazy Mountains FS map that I have mounted to a large tri-fold presentation board for all my research, then asked him to resume his story. I wanted to visually see his trips, where he had gone. On the west side he went from from the Porcupine Trailhead on #267 to Elk Creek #195 to the saddle. He also went Cottonwood #271 to Trespass Creek #268, over the saddle, then east to Trail #123 on to Campfire Lake, then continuing on to Trail #122. South, he went north on Rock Creek #270. From the east he drove to the Sweet Grass Trailhead, taking #122 west to #273 to Sunlight Lake, southwest to #123 to Moose Lake and Campfire Lake – all the while following the public FS trails through checkerboarded private property, without asking for permission or signing in. At one point, the hunters went back to a trail and the landowner had a locked gate obstructing their access.

Seeing all the different trails represented in such a concentrated time period really drove home the importance of public access into and through the Crazy Mountains. Since 2014, when I began researching the Crazies, I have had the pleasure of hearing a number of public access accounts while researching (over 1100 hours now); these personal public access stories help to flesh out the history and importance our public lands have in our lives.

If you have recreated in the Crazy Mountains, using our public Forest Service trails, without asking for permission or signing in, within the last 5 years, even if you were met with an access obstruction, I would love to hear about your personal experience.

You can reach me by email at or phone: 406-579-7748

Montana Legislation SB 341 Update
Some of y'all may have seen news articles or if you submitted a letter to the Governor's office as I did, you might have received a reply May 3rd (mine is below), acknowledging this bill had legal issues concerning a private landowner being able to use these funding agreements, the sign ins and monies paid to work towards reverse adverse use if any historic prescriptive easement public access currently exists, as I stated. Bullock's answer was to direct FWP to adopt rules to determine if any public access already exists. This was a cop out, Rules are not a safety net here and problematic for a number of reasons.

1. A law trumps a rule in legal court. Rules can also be changed by going through a petition process, as I stated before. This is why the Republicans involved refused to have that language included in the bill text.
2. IF the Republican/landowner/stockgrower/farm bureau groups don't object to FWP rules "limiting or repealing" this law or their property rights laws, or threatening to sue on that front, then we proceed to the next stage. And which of you is going to participate in the Rulemaking process to attempt to protect any pre-existing public access? You clearly cannot trust the same people that didn't protect you in the bill drafting or legislative process.
3. IF the rules are put in place to first require FWP to research these roads & trails, the cost burden of manpower hours and research now falls on us, our public dollars, not the landowner, to research any pre-existing access. With only 10% of available funds allowed for administration, this could blow through administration funds faster than they appropriated for. I can tell you how much work it takes to do this type of research (please note my 1100+ hours above). How many employees are they going to train and divert for this type of research? I am also aware of a professional hired to take inventory in the 1940's of contested trails and roads in a certain area. Whoever did the inventory, whether intentionally or shoddily, did not include deeds beneficial to public access, that I was easily able to find, so why didn't they???
4. IF a landowner's application turns up pre-existing access and is denied, is a landowner then going to threaten to sue under point no. 2, for a rule "limiting or repealing" his right to pursue reverse adverse use, since historical pre-existing public access was not an exclusionary criteria listed in the bill?
5. IF a case gets approved, that turns out to have pre-existing public access, who of you is going to going to sue FWP for not better researching or Governor Bullock for not vetoing this bs? He is not going to be in office much longer anyway.
6. And who in the public is going to watchdog this whole process for every application, for every year going forward, because this is now a law? The hunter/angler groups that lobbied for this supposed great bipartisan access bill, even lying to legislators or making vote deals, who knew this bill was messed up? One of those groups has now screwed y'all over on Bullwhacker public access being restored and this bill/law, with their backroom dealings, using your member or contribution dollars to do it.

I have contacted FWP legal to find out the Rulemaking schedule for this law, leaving a message.

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Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat

Thank you,
Kathryn QannaYahu
Helena, MT

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