Setting the Record Straight on the East Crazies and Inspiration Divide Proposed Land Exchange.
To improve the public access situation on the East Side of the Crazy Mountains it is important we understand the real situation that exists on the ground. We invite you to review these common myths side-by-side real facts about the current state of public access and how the proposed land exchange would improve it.
Myth: The East Crazy Mountains Land Exchange harms public access
Fact: False, the land exchange vastly improves public access. Currently the public has uncontested access to just 1.5 square miles of suitable-for-hunting public land between Big Timber Creek and Sweet Grass Creek. This is unacceptable. By swapping lands and rerouting a trail, the land exchange will create new access for 30 square miles of consolidated mid-elevation roadless lands.
Myth: Sweet Grass Creek Trail #122 and East Trunk Trail #136 are public trails
Fact: No, they are contested. A recorded easement is required for the public to have unrestricted rights to use any trail crossing private land and neither trail has a recorded easement with the Forest Service. Only a Court can determine whether a prescriptive easement exists and the burden of proof is on the party bringing that claim.
Myth: The land exchange forfeits access into the Sweet Grass on Trail #122
Fact: False. This is a contested route where landowners currently require permission to cross private property and access public lands. It is the intent of the landowners to continue to allow permissive seasonal access across their private lands so long as private property is respected.
Myth: The land exchange abandons two trails in return for one
Fact: False, the land exchange reroutes Trail #136 and leaves the status of permissive access in place on Trail #122. East Trunk Trail #136 currently weaves through five sections of private property without recorded easements and where landowners do not allow public access. This exchange reroutes this contested route onto public lands. While this new trail will be at higher elevation it will create new access to a 30-square mile block of public land that is currently inaccessible.
Myth: The public gives up better habitat at lower elevations for higher elevation interior lands of lesser value to wildlife and hunters
Fact: No. The public does not have legal access for these small parcels of lower-elevation lands to begin with. Even if uncontested access were somehow established, the hunting opportunity would still be limited because these parcels are completely isolated by checkerboard. As an alternative the land exchange would open up access for 30 square miles of consolidated mid-elevation roadless lands with high-quality security habitat for elk, bear, and mule deer in Amelong Creek, Dry Creek, Otter Creek, and Sweet Grass Creek.
Myth: The new trail is 22 miles from Sweet Grass Canyon, much farther than the current route that starts at the mouth of Sweet Grass Canyon.
Fact: The new trail would establish the most direct uncontested route into Sweet Grass Canyon requiring a 13-mile hike to reach Sweet Grass Canyon from Big Timber Canyon. Additional uncontested routes into Sweet Grass Creek include trail #119, which originates at Halfmoon campground, and various trailheads on the west side of the range. The public could still reach Sweet Grass Canyon from the east because landowners intend to continue allowing permissive access across their private lands.
Myth: Land exchange seeks to avoid NEPA or environmental review
Fact: No. The East Crazy Mountains and Inspiration Divide Land Exchange will be submitted to the Custer Gallatin National Forest. As required by law, the Forest Service will begin their environmental analysis and scoping. As with similar natural resource policies, Congress can always step in and assist if there are unnecessary delays.
Myth: The land exchange weakens a current lawsuit to open access on contested routes.
Fact: False. A lawsuit filed in 2019 does not make a direct claim for prescriptive easements on any contested route. Instead, it raises administrative process claims and asks the Forest Service to challenge landowners more directly. Even if successful, multiple additional legal challenges would be required and be subject to appeal.
Myth: Lawsuits will improve public access in the Crazies
Fact: No. Lawsuits fail to address the underlying problem of checkerboarded public lands. Even if access on the east side of the Crazies were opened by litigation, the vast majority of public land would still remain inaccessible because of the sheer amount of checkerboard. Land exchanges are more durable and more certain to resolve public access and clean-up the checkerboard.