Bozeman Chronicle wrong to suggest suing landowners to take property

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"Spring Wheeling 025," by Powhusku. CC 2.0.

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.

Shawn Regan on a better way to promote public access

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"Post" by Candace Fladager, CC 2.0.

No one likes when landowners slap up “No Trespassing” signs and block access. But with access disputes back in the news, it’s time to confront the possibility that our current strategies to promote public access aren’t solving the problem — they’re making it worse.

Access disputes boil down to a simple fact: Whether over concerns about privacy, liability, or risk of abuse by a few bad actors, landowners are often reluctant to grant strangers open access to their private property.

But when it comes to trying to enhance access, we often go about it the wrong way. Public-access groups pursue confrontational approaches that make enemies out of the very landowners they need to engage most.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. Consider the sharing economy, which is revolutionizing the way people tackle similar problems. With services such as Airbnb and Uber, entrepreneurs find ways to share “access” to underused assets like spare bedrooms or vehicles. They do so by connecting suppliers and demanders and creating trust among both parties.

Terry Anderson on the Forest Service Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz scandal

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"Vintage Forest Service Signs" by Sam Beebe, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Excellent commentary from PERC’s Terry Anderson on the scandal caused by National Park Ranger Alex Seinkiewicz, who urged enviro activists to trespass on private property:

For the eight years that President Barack Obama reigned in Washington, environmentalists cheered his agenda. There was his War on Coal, his signing of the Paris Climate Accord, his executive order giving EPA regulatory authority over all Waters of the United States (WOTUS), and his creation of more national monuments than any previous president.

“With President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, conservatives in favor of less government regulation are cheering. In a matter of months he has declared war on the War on Coal, withdrawn the United States from the Paris Accord, rescinded the WOTUS executive order giving EPA power to regulate virtually every drop of water in the United States, and sent Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, on a mission to decide whether national monuments created in the past 25 years should be “rescinded, resized or modified in order to better benefit our public lands.”

Less well known on the national scene, but visible to those of us who live in Montana, are both administrations’ stance on private property rights and access to public lands. Back when politics was more civil, land management agencies cooperated with private owners whose land provides access to national forests. They purchased or negotiated easements and acknowledged the good will of landowners who allowed access, some literally through their front yards…

Such cooperation, however, changed under the Obama administration as the Forest Service took a more strident approach in asserting claims to “traditional public access” routes. The dramatic change is reflected in a posting by Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz who publicly advocated “NEVER ask permission to access the National Forest Service through a traditional route shown on our maps EVEN if that route crosses private land. NEVER ASK PERMISSION; NEVER SIGN IN. … By asking permission, one undermines public access rights and plays into their lawyers’ trap of establishing a history of permissive access.”

Read Mr. Anderson’s full opinion in the Missoulian.

UPOM Comments on EQC HJ 13 Road & Access Study

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"Porcupine Trail" by Elliot P. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Environmental Quality Council has spent a good part of their time during the interim in putting together a study to assess access on public land in Montana, in particular on how road closures on federal land have affected access.  Their study also looks at elk distribution and how less access may have affected elk harvests.  A copy of the draft report can be found here.

And below you can read the comments that we submitted to the committee: