In the fall of 2016, Rob Gregoire, a hunter and nearly life-long Montanan, won a state lottery for a permit to take a trophy elk in the Crazy Mountains, which rise from the plains about 60 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. Landowners around the mountains were charging about $2,000 for private hunts on their ranches. “That’s just not what I do, on principle,” Gregoire says. So he found a public access corridor that would take him into prime Crazies elk country—the federal land covered by the permit, which in total cost about $40.
Such trails have led into the Crazies for generations. And disputes between landowners and those who would cross their properties on these trails reach back nearly that far, too. By 2016, the trailhead Gregoire found was “the last non-contested public access point on the 35-mile-long eastern flank of the Crazy Mountains,” he would write later to his U.S. senators.
Yet even on what Gregoire thought was a public throughway, the Hailstone Ranch had posted game cameras and signs claiming that the Forest Service didn’t have an easement to use the segment that crossed the private property. After consulting with the Forest Service, Gregoire decided to hike the route anyway. He used an app to stay on trail where it seemed faint, to make sure he kept to public land. Then one evening as he returned toward the trailhead after an unsuccessful hunt, Gregoire found a deputy sheriff from Sweet Grass County waiting for him. The deputy handed Gregoire a ticket for criminal trespass. After court costs, the ticket cost $585.
Ridiculous. When republicans talk about taking land away from the government and giving it “back to the people”, what they really mean is take publicly owned land and give it to wealthy landowners. These landowners then then put up no trespassing signs. How is that giving land back to the people again?