Conservation Public Lands & Waters

Welcome to Open Country: All Access with Ben Lamb

I used to hunt a place here in Montana that was enrolled in Block Management, a program that helps landowners manage hunting activities while providing the public with free hunting access to private land.

It was a fantastic piece of river bottom outside of Simms that regularly produced ringnecks, whitetails and more ducks than you could shake a stick at; the brown trout fishing was decent, too. It was a small section and you had to share it with whoever else was out there, but my lord, what a great spot.

The place was sold one year to a gentleman who had hunted it a year or so before. He fell in love with the spot and just had to have it. Unfortunately, the new owner took it out of Block Management and now nobody gets to hunt it, except a select few.

I miss that place; the frost on the ground as you walked into the pastures where you’d sit against an old cottonwood waiting for the deer to come out; walking the buffalo berry brush and being startled by a hen pheasant when the setter busts it right in front of you.

Stories like this are all too common these days. I have a few more, and I’m sure you do to.

Access. It’s a word that gets almost every outdoorsman and woman to light up and pay attention. We’re losing access to our public lands and local shooting complexes; we also lose opportunity when there’s too much access. We fight political battles when it comes to fishing access in states like Utah and Montana, while striving to maintain our current access to public lands.

I’ve worked on access issues in the West for almost a decade, and it’s the one issue where there isn’t always a clear path to find a good solution. It’s the one thing that matters most when it’s time to put on our boots and Mackinaw jacket. And the answers keep getting harder while we lose more and more of our little tucked away river bottoms, or the closing of roads that lead us to monster bull elk.

Access, more than anything else today, is the defining factor when it comes to being able to enjoy the outdoors. It’s an issue that has been described as one of the most influential factors in causing people to stop hunting or fishing. It has been cited that loss of access close by home keeps kids from joining in what Theodore Roosevelt called “the strenuous life.”

We hope this blog will become a resource in the national dialogue on access. Loss of access to nearby shooting facilities, road densities on National Forests, stream access laws that work and don’t work are some of the issues that we will be tackling. We strive to be grounded in common sense when it comes to policy issues. We hope to provide the information everyone needs to be better informed on access issues, and the tools to help keep every single one of us out in the fields, forests and rivers of America.