Once again, the Custer Gallatin National Forest has changed its position and management of public access in the Crazy Mountains. Contrary to the 2018 “Porcupine Ibex Trail No. 267 Relocation Project,” the current U.S. Forest Service "solicitation for bid" map shows a radically different trail map than the one presented to the public during scoping.

In 1996, USFS Region 1 Regional Forester Hal Salwasser replied to an inquiry from U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns on the Crazy Mountains. Salwasser wrote: “Most of the National Forest System trails in Montana were established in the early 1900s. Since that time, these roads and trails have been maintained, signed, managed and used for Forest Service management purposes and public recreational activities...

"A portion of this road and trail system crosses intermingled private lands. In many cases, these roads and trails afford the only access to adjoining public lands. For those National Forest system roads and trails where the FS does not have recorded easements, it is our position that the U.S. has an easement interest due to historic public, administrative use and maintenance.”

In 2015, a hunter experiencing attempted obstruction in the Crazies wrote to U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who then wrote to CGNF Supervisor Mary Erickson. She replied, repeating Salwasser's position.

Instead of supporting the Yellowstone District Ranger's adherence to FS policy of defending and maintaining our public access in the Crazies, the CGNF removed the ranger in June 2017; after public outcry reinstated him with limitations in October 2017; and then began a trail relocation proposal on the Porcupine Lowline in January 2018, claiming a categorical exclusion, instead of an environmental analysis/environmental impact statement, moving the goal posts from previous management.

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During the March 2018 scoping process, the FS didn't hold any public meetings. Friends of the Crazy Mountains and Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat had to hold a public meeting in Livingston inviting the FS and landowner to speak — a meeting the FS should have held. We recorded it, made that video and all the PDF documents available online. The FS did not allow their line officers to attend the public meeting to answer the public's questions. Armed with facts, the majority of the public comments submitted in the scoping process opposed the trail relocation. About a week after the scoping deadline, the FS removed the public comments from the online reading room, moving the goal posts again.

As a result, a group of us formed a coalition to legally represent our public trust interests: Friends of the Crazy Mountains, Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat, Skyline Sportsmen Association and Montana Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Our attorneys filed a notice of intent to sue on Feb. 13. The FS did not respond. We filed our complaint June 10.

Instead of the FS addressing our concerns, I found online that the FS is charging ahead, issuing a solicitation for construction. Trail No. 267 Phase 1 will obliterate 1,300 feet of current trail and another 1,200 feet of Trail No. 195 on Section 15, which they previously stated the proposed relocation would piggyback — again moving the goalposts.

To add insult to our Crazy Mountains public access injury, the solicitation map is different than previously presented to the public: a steeper and higher route limiting children, impaired and older users. Contrary to the 2006 travel plan, this relocation cuts over a third, out of the middle, of a currently existing motorcycle route from the public's use — again moving the goalposts.

The public should be outraged over the CGNF's actions disregarding the public, FS policy and lack of defending our public access to our public lands.

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Kathryn QannaYahu is the founder of Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat (EMWH.org). 

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