OPINION: Stop trying to block public access in eastern Montana

By  - September 7, 2018 - Originally published in the Missoulian.

This fall, hunters will have access to an additional 20,000 acres of pristine mule deer and antelope habitat, including 5,000 acres of previously inaccessible public land.

The Horse Creek easement was green-lighted by Gov. Steve Bullock just in time for hunting season. This approval went against the wishes of Matt Rosendale, Corey Stapleton and Elsie Arntzen, all of whom voted to indefinitely delay the project with every intention of letting it fade away and off of hunters’ radars. Thankfully, Bullock stepped in and did the right thing for Montanans.

Public access is crucial across the state, but remains paramount in eastern Montana, a landscape checkerboarded with private and inaccessible public lands. Yet this increase in hunting opportunity and the unlocking of public lands didn’t seem to sit well with Montana Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman. Sales recently approached Attorney General Tim Fox and asked to overturn the easement and prevent Habitat Montana funds — the proceeds from hunting and fishing licenses — from being spent anywhere in eastern Montana.

“Quite frankly,” Sales said, “that’s in a portion of the state where there’s not a very large population center.”

Sales is either ignoring or unaware of the thousands of sportsmen and -women who each fall travel — often from out of state — to hunt eastern Montana’s rural lands. Some of the best hunting occurs away from population centers, and proximity to urban areas never has been nor should be a qualification for spending Habitat Montana dollars.

If Scott Sales and other legislators from Dawson and Wibaux counties diverted their energies from trying to block public access and instead focused on opening up more opportunities, we would have a good chance at opening up Montana’s 1.52 million acres of legally inaccessible public lands, including 900,000 acres in Region 7 alone.



Justin Schaaf, Fort Peck, MT

Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Regional Board Member


About Justin Schaaf

Eastern Montanan, Hunter, and Conservationist.

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