In its August 1 editorial (“Governor’s new office must focus on access“), the Chronicle calls on Governor Bullock to sue private landowners in order to take their property for recreational purposes for the public. It’s an absurd, undemocratic, illiberal, and ultimately unconstitutional notion.
The Chronicle claims that we are losing public access to landowners “who throw up gates across traditional public access roads and trails.” That’s not true. It’s illegal to gate a public road or trail, and gates put up illegally—maliciously, or more likely by mistake—are removed.
What the Chronicle really meant to say in its editorial is that it believes the state should begin confiscating roads and trails that are privately owned but that are desirable in some way.
To take private property by suing landowners isn’t just a dumb and dangerous idea, it’s completely unnecessary. The Montana legislature has already taken big steps to cooperatively gain more access across private land—providing tax incentives to landowners for access and prioritizing state funding for access easements.