A potentially dangerous precedent is playing out in a federal district court in Montana, where hunters, anglers and public lands users of all stripes have launched a Hail Mary in order to protect public access to the iconic Crazy Mountains.
Starting in the mid-2010s, the U.S. Forest Service stopped maintaining and protecting prescriptive access routes across a checkerboard pattern of public and private land on the east side of the Crazies. For the Forest Service, it had apparently grown too tiresome to deal with the well-funded private landowners who continually challenged historic easements—easements that are, quite often, the only routes people can take to reach historic fishing and hunting grounds.
“Under Montana law,” reads a 2021 article in the Helena Independent Record, “a prescriptive easement allowing access across private property is established by ‘open, exclusive, notorious, hostile, adverse, continuous, and uninterrupted use’ for a period of five years. Experts estimate thousands of written and unwritten prescriptive easements exist in the state, with a wide variety of purposes including access to livestock on neighboring private property or public recreation access.”
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