The Crazy Mountains are primarily US Forest Service public lands administered by two Forests (established in the late 1800s) – the northern part by the consolidated Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and the larger southern portion by the consolidated Custer Gallatin National Forest. The northern portion is located in Meagher and Wheatland counties and the southern in Park and Sweet Grass counties.
The Crazy Mountains involve a checkerboard of private and public lands, which originated with the Federal government granting alternate sections to the Northern Pacific Railroad; compensation for building track. Eventually, private landowners purchased sections from the Railroad. Some checkerboarded private land parcels have been sold or transferred to the Forest Service, enabling the Forest Service to consolidate some of the checkerboarded parcels.
The Forest Service has a number of trails/roads in the Crazy Mountains, which have been historic public access trails, appearing on map publications, dating back almost 100 years; as well as being part of Travel Management Plans.
In the 1940’s, with the popularity of Dude Ranches and outfitting, certain private landowners began cutting off public access to these trails, which have been a source of continuing contention for decades. With Montana’s law of Reverse Adverse Use being 5 years, the Forest Service and the public need to diligently defend our historical public access to our public lands.
Beginning in 2001, the Big Elk Canyon issue began, with landowner Mac White seeking to build a road to access his private 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. White sought the assistance of Sen. Conrad Burns to force the Forest Service’s hand through a legislative rider; it did not succeed…
Some of the Trails involved are: Trails 267, 195, 267, 268 part of the Porcupine Lowline trail system on the west side; Swamp Creek on the southeastern side; Trail 115/136 (East Trunk Trail) and Trail 122 (Sweetgrass) on the east side.
Recently, public lands and access issues reared their head again when Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz became the District Ranger, began managing for multiple use, according to Region 1 Forest Service policy. In pursuing public access and maintaining historical trails, Sienkiewicz drew the ire of certain Sweet Grass and Park County landowners who began targeting him in his position. Utilizing their various positions in organizations, such as the Montana Outfitters & Guides Association, Montana Farm Bureau and the Montana Stockgrowers Association, the landowners complained to Senator Steve Daines (including false allegations), Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell and newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Sienkiewicz was removed from his District Ranger position on June 16, 2017.
PLWA responded with a letter of support, refuting the special interest landowner allegations with FOIA and other documents obtained by Enhancing Montana’s Wildlife & Habitat the previous fall.
- PLWA’s Letter Defending Alex Sienkiewicz as Yellowstone District Ranger
- Refutation Documentation Defending Alex Sienkiewicz as Yellowstone District Ranger (companion to PLWA’s Letter, includes the MT Farm Bureau Federation letter to Sen. Daines, certain Crazy Mountain landowners letter to Sen. Daines and Ag. Sec. Sonny Perdue, Sen. Daines letter Ag Sec. Sonny Perdue.)
The Forest Service initially reported Sienkiewicz was being investigated for the landowner allegations and removed due to pressure from Sen. Daines and Ag. Sec. Perdue. The investigation would not be made public, nor subject to a FOIA. Numerous letters of support for Sienkiewicz were sent to Congressmen, the Forest Service, Perdue, newspapers and publications. On Oct. 11, 2017, it was reported that Alex Sienkiewicz was being restored to his Yellowstone District Ranger position, effective about Oct. 20th.
PLWA is currently in data gathering mode concerning the Crazy Mountain public access trails situation.