MWF Report outlines efforts to keep the public out of public lands and waters

Montanans are increasingly being kept out of their public lands by people gating public roads through private land, a new report titled “Roadblocked and Landlocked” has found.

The joint Montana Wildlife Federation and Public Land/Water Access Association report details the growing trend of gated public roads that has cost hunters, anglers and all outdoor recreationists access to tens of thousands of acres of their public national forests, grasslands and rivers.

“This report shows how ordinary Montanans have lost access to some of our most treasured public lands,” said Skip Kowalski, President of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Public access is essential to get to the places that Montanans love to hunt, fish, hike and pursue all kinds of outdoor recreation.”

The report illustrates case studies of routes formerly open to the public that have been gated. These closures have forced everyday Montanans into expensive, lengthy court battles to gain what is rightfully theirs – the ability to use public roads that have long been open to everyone. These rural roads have often for decades been used by ranchers to move livestock as well as by the public for recreation purposes.

But one gate, as with the Tenderfoot Creek Road north of White Sulpher Springs, can block off huge swaths of public land behind them, said John Gibson, president of the Public Land/Water Access Association. With the Tenderfoot, the gated road cut off 8,200 acres of prime national forest land that offers excellent public hunting for elk and deer.

“For over two decades we’ve seen some people work to privatize our public lands by cutting off public access,” Gibson said. “And once somebody controls the access, they control all the public resources, including the fish and wildlife on those lands.”

PLWA has been at the forefront of working to maintain and restore public access throughout the state by going to court to ensure these roads remain open. The group has also been a staunch defender of Montana’s stream access law, which gives the public the right to use public rivers and streams by staying within the high water mark.

The report is meant to spotlight the problem. MWF along with PLWA will be working on several bills in the 2015 Legislature to address the problem and guarantee the public maintain access to its public lands.