Group defends forest ranger who was reassigned after Crazy Mountains access dispute

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by Brett French, Billings Gazette

A public access group is accusing a group of Sweet Grass County landowners and a state farming alliance of using false and misleading information to malign a Forest Service district ranger who advocated for public access to federal lands.

Livingston District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz was reassigned on June 16 and an internal investigation has been launched by the Forest Service into his activities.

The move came after Montana Farm Bureau Federation executive vice-president John Youngberg, as well as nine Sweet Grass County landowners, successfully lobbied Sen. Steve Daines to question Sienkiewicz’s tactics for reinforcing historic public access via Forest Service trails to federal lands in the Crazy Mountains.

“We would request that you use the full power and authority of your offices to investigate and determine whether this FS Ranger has been acting in congruence with FS policies and his job duties when he has been instigating conflict and encouraging criminal actions by members of the public against private property owners in order to try and establish public access across private lands,” read a letter from nine Big Timber-area ranchers dated May 29 to Daines and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. The Forest Service is under the umbrella of USDA.

The letter goes on to state that although the landowners are not trying to halt public access where it legally exists, “the FS is attempting to create access rights across private lands where such access either” never existed, has long been abandoned, is no longer necessary or was never perfected by obtaining an easement.

Online

The letters were two of several documents obtained by Bozeman public access advocate Kathryn QannaYahu through a Freedom of Information Act request. She posted some of the documents online, as well as a letter of support for the district ranger.

“We believe you should recognize that Ranger Sienkiewicz was removed based on erroneous claims by special interest groups,” wrote the Public Land/Water Access Association’s nine-member board of directors in its letter. “His management was consistent with existing Forest Service and Office of General Council policy direction.”

Crazy Mountains
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is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.
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