According to a recent article in the Independent Record and a jointly published report by the Montana Wildlife Federation and Public Land/Water Access Association, citizens of Montana are all too frequently finding themselves excluded from their favorite outdoor areas as private landowners gate off public roads that cross their property. Lengthy and difficult legal battles being too costly for the average citizen to pursue, the result is that Montanans are routinely being denied the ability to enjoy thousands of acres of public land.
In her article entitled “Report: Gates keeping Montanans out of public land,” Independent Record reporter Kelley Christensen (2014) writes that “[t]hese rural roads have often for decades been used by ranchers to move livestock as well as by the public for recreation purposes.” Christensen’s article highlights the efforts being undertaken by the Montana Wildlife Federation and the Public Land/Water Access Association to advocate for the public’s right to access public land. The report issued by those organizations, “ROADBLOCKED & LANDLOCKED,” further highlights the frustrations Montanans experience as their outdoor plans are thwarted by private land owners. ROADBLOCKED & LANDLOCKED” author Nick Gevock, who is the director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, provides numerous detailed examples of road closings by landowners. In one such example, Gevock (2014) describes a case in Fergus County involving the installation of a locked gate across the Mabee Road, a route shown on maps from the early 1900s. The rancher who closed off the road “block[ed] public access to some 25,000 acres of public land…[and] operates an outfitting and guide business on the land to which he now has exclusive access” (p. 3). Apparently this is not an isolated incident, but an all-too-common occurrence. For instance, the Bullwhacker Road in Blaine County which “has been used…for half a century…serv[ing] as the only reasonable access to over 50,000 acres…in the Missouri River Breaks” (Gevock, p. 4) has been barricaded and since ruled a private road. The legal actions required to re-open such access routes often involve years of effort and expense, during which time the public is denied the usage of those lands that are rightfully theirs.
Christensen, Kelley (2014, September, 12). Report: Gates keeping Montanans out of public land. Helena, MT, Independent Record. http://helenair.com/news/local/report-gates-keeping-montanans-out-of-public-land/article_d013199f-30d5-517e-aeac-9a756b61eb51.html.
Gevock, Nick (2014, September). ROADBLOCKED & LANDLOCKED how Montanans are being kept out of their public lands. Helena, MT, Montana Wildlife Federation. Billings, MT, Public Land/Water Access Association. http://helenair.com/roadblocked -and-landlocked-report/pdf_0d26bbfa-afc5-534c-a3c9-2e29de39e3a4.html.
Student Researcher: Robert M. Jernigan, Jr. (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Jared Kinggard (Indian River State College)