The Battle for Access to the Land

Protecting access to public lands.

It’s easy to take our public lands for granted in Montana, to accept fencelines as permanent fixtures on the landscape, to forget that the mountains and prairies were at one time unbounded and that people had the freedom to roam. Somewhere along the way, we drew lines across the landscape. We divided sagebrush flats into checkerboards and allowed industrial interests to claim huge parcels for themselves and themselves alone. As a result, much of the land in our state is a disjointed patchwork, and it’s now facing a newer, modern threat: a certain brand of wealthy, out-of-state landowner who refuses to allow anyone—hunter, angler, skier, or simple wanderer—to access their land or the public land beyond.

In the Spring 2023 issue, we dove into land-access conflicts playing out across Montana and other western states right now. We have a close look at Wyoming’s high-profile corner-crossing case, and one public-land advocate’s solution: a surcharge on sizeable, private estates that shut their gates to the public. And you may not have realized, but we’ve also been singing a famous folk song (see video below) about this issue since we were children. It’s time to sing it again, and loudly.

The good news is that whether it’s national forest, BLM, or state land, there are people fighting for your right to get to it. So the next time you step foot on public land, or stare across a posted fenceline denying you access to some, keep in mind everything that plays out behind the scenes. It’s the reason you’re there in the first place.