Crazy Mountains, Big Elk Canyon Access – Wheatland County







In 2001, McFarland White began discussions with the US Forest Service to build a road to access his parcels, across the northeastern USFS Crazy Mountains parcels, south of Big Elk Canyon, to reach his checkerboarded parcels within. White wanted road access to log and ranch. Yet, he did not want to allow public access through his property, he only wanted the Forest Service to have administrative access. Federal regulations require seeking reciprocity, or public access, in return for private access.

In 2002, White submitted an easement proposal to the USFS. White would provide walk in access to the Forest Service, in exchange for White receiving road access. The Forest Service would also provide erosion control-water bars and grass seeding. This was not acceptable to the Forest Service.

“… talks came to a standstill over the reciprocity issue and public access. White then took his complaint to Montana’s congressional delegation. The result was a rider written into the Department of Interior’s 2007 appropriations bill that would ‘direct the Chief (of the Forest Service) to seek an easement for administrative access to Big Elk Canyon across private land and upon securing such an easement to reciprocate by offering a road easement across corners of (Lewis and Clark National Forest) for access to private inholdings.’ ”

One of Montana’s Senators was Conrad Burns, who also the Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior, the author of the rider.

PLWA (then PLAAI), lobbied against the ear mark in the 2006 federal legislation, in which subsequently defeated Montana Senator Conrad Burns tried to provide Mr. White exclusive access to 10,000 acres of public land and have the taxpayers pick up the tab to do it. President John Gibson was quoted, ” ‘… that as a big-game guide and outfitter, White has already profited from the public’s resource (wildlife) by not allowing access to forest land. By keeping the public out, White has almost exclusive use of the public forest lands for his own benefit… This is good-old-boy sleaze politics all the way,’ said John Gibson, president of the Public Lands Access Association Inc. in Billings. ‘This is a good opportunity for the Forest Service. We would never get access if we didn’t do this once in a while.’ ”

Gordon Schofield, group leader for land uses at the Forest Service’s Northern Region office in Missoula, stated, “Reciprocity is the tool we’re typically talking about. That’s in federal regulations. And our clientele is the 300 million people who own that land.”

After the failed legislative rider, the Forest Service reject another proposal by White in 2008. “The Forest Service has rejected a new proposal by Two Dot landowner Mac White that would have granted the public walk-in access to national forest lands near Big Elk Canyon on the east side of the Crazy Mountains. ‘He’s still not giving us an easement that we’re interested in,’ said Doug Dodge, district ranger for the Musselshell District in Harlowton. ‘What we’re looking for is unrestricted public access. That’s been the stickler all along.’ ”

Big Elk Canyon, Crazy Mountains
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.