The U.S. Forest Service recently decided to reroute a road in the Bridger Mountains near Bozeman rather than engage in a costly court battle with a landowner to obtain a prescriptive easement across his property. For many access advocates, that rational agreement represents a slippery slope.
Despite the fact that the landowner maintained the trail and existing bridge, never once denied access to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, and never suggested that access would be denied in the future, the USFS ended its good neighbor policy on Sept. 1, 2011, and pursued a prescriptive easement instead. It filed a statement of interest stating that, “The United States of America states that it has and claims an easement for the Indian Creek trail 328 over and across” the private land. Based on that statement of interest, the landowner sought to clarify or “quiet” its title.
To see how far the USFS is willing to push its interest in access across private property, consider the advice from District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz (Yellowstone Ranger District) posted on July 7, 2016, on the Facebook page of the Public Land/Water Access Association: “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 (concerns —c ome see me)… Whatever past (district rangers) or colleagues have said, I am making it clear, DO NOT ASK permission and DO NOT ADVISE public to ask permission… By asking permission, one undermines public access rights and plays into their lawyers’ trap of establishing a history of permissive access.” Landowners beware!
And Smokey Bear sez:
“NEVER ask permission"
"NEVER SIGN IN"
"DO NOT ADVISE public to ask permission"
What happened to "collaboration"?
The quotes above provide a concise explanation of the feds' opinion of property owners and the general public; is one example of the controversy created by federal control of the majority of land in the West; and serves as a warning to any property owner dealing with the feds.