Conservation groups sue to uphold and defend public access to the Crazies.
Yesterday, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service hoping to maintain traditional public-access opportunities in the Crazy Mountains. The group’s lawsuit hinges on the Forest Service’s continued lack of progress and unresponsiveness regarding the public’s right to access public lands and waters in the Crazies. The Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), Enhancing Montana’s Wildlife and Habitat, the Friends of the Crazy Mountains, and the Skyline Sportsmen were all listed in the suit, which was filed on Monday in federal court in Billings.
In February, the coalition submitted a letter to the Forest Service summarizing concerns over public access in the Crazies and notifying the agency of its intent to sue should access issues fail to be resolved. “These trails are public,” said John Sullivan, chair of Montana BHA. “Forest Service leadership knows this, yet certain individuals with the Service have chosen to ignore the facts and turn their back on the public. We have no intention of standing idly by while this faction engages in the very behavior it has deemed irresponsible.
“We stand united with the hardworking Forest Service employees who are committed to responsibly managing our public lands and waters,” Sullivan continued. “At the same time, we will fight for the public’s right to access these public lands and waters, which are central to our Montana way of life.”
The suit specifies four trails, two on the west side of the range and two on the east side of the range, that are mapped as public trails, are well known and have been traditionally used by the public, but where efforts currently are being made to illegally and impermissibly obstruct public access.
In a letter to Sen. Steve Daines dated October 2, 2015, USFS Forest Supervisor for the Custer-Gallatin Mary Erickson said, “The Forest Service maintains that it holds unperfected prescriptive rights on this trail system, as well as up Sweet Grass Creek to the north based on a history of maintenance with public funds and historic and continued public and administrative use.” In the words of the U.S. Forest Service’s own attorneys regarding one of the trails: “Indeed, it would be irresponsible of the Forest Service to simply abandon these easement rights or fail to reflect their existence in the Travel Plan simply to avoid the souring of relationships between landowners and recreational groups.”
BHA North American Board Chair Ryan Busse stressed the critical role of access in public lands hunting and fishing and need for access in the Crazies to be resolved. “As Americans we all should have access to our vast public lands,” said Busse. “Areas where legal access is established and maintained are our birthright. Unfortunately, this can change at a moment’s notice—and worse, reduced access can become permanent if not challenged.”
“We hope that the Forest Service will begin to work again to protect every citizen’s right to access the Crazy Mountain trails,” Busse continued. “We ask the Forest Service to immediately manage them as legal access points. And we hope that this suit is resolved quickly and amicably. Our motive—and our objective—is clear: We wish to spend our time not in the courtroom but on America’s public lands and waters.”
This article was reprinted with permission from BHA.