Crazy Mountain Access At Stake

Recently, one of our Forest Service employees was removed from his position for doing his job, because certain private landowners in Sweet Grass County want to increase privatization of our public resources.

There have been long running public access issues in the Crazy Mountains for decades. PLWA applauded that there was a public trust employee doing his job – Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz has maintained trails, like the FS Trail 115/136, and advised the public which trails were on Forest Service maps and in their Travel Plans, including public hunter Rob Gregoire, who used the trail to hunt the Crazies in the fall of 2016.

This not only drew the ire of certain Sweet Grass County residents, but their concerted efforts to have Sienkiewicz removed as District Ranger, which occurred on June 16, 2017.

Brett French wrote an article on the subject, connecting a number of the dots – District ranger faces internal investigation over Crazy Mountain access dispute.

In it, Custer Gallatin National Forest Supervisor, Mary Erickson is quoted:

“The reassignment was made to ‘create some separation between Alex as district ranger and allegations raised concerning access issues in the Crazies,’ said Mary Erickson, forest supervisor.

Erickson said allegations from an assortment of landowners in the Big Timber area were ‘raised to the level’ of the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.”

Letters were from ranch owners, some of which are outfitters of the public resources in the Crazy Mountains, with stated membership in the Montana Farm Bureau and Stockgrowers organizations; as well as the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, who brought up the discussion at the January Montana Outfitters and Guides Association meeting in Helena, making false allegations and questioning Sienkiewicz’s management.

PLWA Vice President John Gibson (retired Forest Service) roared, “Don’t reassign him; I say, CLONE HIM! You need more rangers with the intestinal fortitude to protect and enhance access to the national forest.”

Retired public agency employee and PLWA Director, John Gibson, descends from a 3 decades line of PLWA’s public access advocates in Montana, beginning with retired Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Lewis (Gene) Hawkes, in 1984. By founding Public Land Access Association (later changed to PLWA), Hawkes and other retired agency employees would not let retirement stop them from pursuing the public access defense they were previously employed to defend on our behalf.

An example of that access defense is an August 2002 Forest Service Briefing Paper involving the Gallatin National Forest, which states, “The growing demand for dispersed recreation on public lands, and the changes and trends in private landownership, have brought considerable attention to the trails issue on this Forest. At an increasing rate, landowners are questioning the status of trails across private land. Private land within and adjacent to this Forest continues to be sold. New owners may or may not recognize the existing public access through their lands. Some trails on private land are being lost through subdivision, closure or obliteration.

As a result, it is critical for the Gallatin NF to continue to have a strong and consistent policy and presence in: (a) signing and maintaining our trail system across private lands; (b) defending historic trail access rights if challenged; and (c) perfecting trail access rights across private lands whenever that opportunity exists.”

In the Direction and Policy section they wrote, “Under FLPMA and FSM 5460 direction…In situation where an existing NFS trail crosses private lands, and no deeded easement exist, the Forest Service position is as follows: The United States has acquired a right-of-way from the trail through development, maintenance and continuous use of the trail. As a matter of law, the Forest Service believes that there is a public access easement for the trail. The Forest Service is a beneficiary of this public right of access, will continue its efforts to defend the public’s right of access.

(1) Protect and maintain historic evidence, including trail blazes, signs, maps, photos and maintenance records.

(2) Maintain and sign the trail on a regular basis, and keep records and photos of this maintenance, and

(3) Take prompt action in the event that landowners threaten or take action to close or obliterate the trail.”

Not only have certain Sweet Grass County landowners threatened and taken action to close or obliterate public access FS trails in the Crazy Mountains, but they have threatened and taken action against our public trust District Ranger, Alex Sienkiewicz, who was following FS Direction and Policy in defending our public trust from privatization – basically, doing his job.

PLWA encourages you to show the same defense of our public access and Alex Sienkiewicz reinstatement as Yellowstone District Ranger, by raising your concerns to the same officials that the privatizers just did.

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

Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA,
is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.
The Internal Revenue Service has made a determination that PLWA qualifies as a tax- exempt
organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that it is a public charity.

Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice.
Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.