November 25, 2013
In the West, Inaccessible Public Land Tantalizes Sportsmen - 1
No sportsman on this continent has a monopoly on frustration when it comes to access. We all wish we had more, whether we’re Eastern trout anglers, Southeastern turkey hunters, Rocky Mountain elk bums, or Canadian hikers.
But Westerners’ access frustrations are born of tantalizing proximity to public land, much of which is inaccessible. The frustrations are detailed in a spot-on piece in last weekend’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
About 5 percent of my home state of Montana is owned by the state, and managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which manages thousands of 640-acre sections spread from border to border. These lands are a the legacy of our homesteading era a century ago, when two sections—typically 16 and 36—in each township were set aside as rural school sites and funding engines for local education. The idea was that grazing or logging from the sections would fund schools in each township, reducing the property-tax burden on homesteaders.
It remains a great idea. Revenue from the state sections, which are typically leased to neighboring landowners for grazing, fund schools across the state, and sections that are logged or mined also provide school revenue.
The problem is, only a fraction of state land is publically accessible by an adjacent public road or waterway. Most of these school sections, which appear as blue squares on land-ownership maps, are landlocked. Landowners who lease state sections typically consider them part of their private-land holding, and don’t have much incentive to allow hunters, anglers, or hikers to get to them.
As the newspaper article details, Montanans who are locked out of those school sections are increasingly seeing red as they look at all those tantalizingly close, but entirely inaccessible, squares of blue.
About Open Country
Hunters and anglers across the nation consistently list one challenge as their primary obstacle to spending more time in the field: Access.
Outdoor Life's Open Country program aims to tackle that issue head on and with boots on the ground. The program highlights volunteer-driven efforts to improve access along with habitat improvements to make existing public lands even better places to hunt and fish. The program's goal is to substantially increase sportsman's access across the country by promoting events that make a difference.
Here on Open Country's blog page, contributors take a close look at access issues across the country. Some are public-policy discussions, where we investigate the nuances of public access. In other blogs, we shine a light on attempts to turn public recreation opportunities into private hunting and fishing domains. In still other blogs, we interview decision makers about access issues. Together, we fight for the ability of America's hunters and anglers to have a place to swing a gun or wet a line.
We promise the discussion is always lively, interesting, and fresh, so visit this page frequently to tune into the latest access issue.
The Open Country program culminates in grants and awards with top projects and participants being honored.