As western U.S. population grows, so does acrimony over access to public land

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In states like Montana and Wyoming, federal land holdings are vast, but enjoying those wild spaces can involve a complicated legal mess on country roads and paths

Andy Thomas climbs behind the wheel of his side-by-side off-road vehicle and rolls toward Adobetown Road. The historic byway once brought gold miners from Salt Lake City to Virginia City, Mont.

Not long ago, however, some of the gates on Adobetown Road were locked. Mr. Thomas, a physiotherapist and hunter, has led a fight to keep them open, an effort that has seen him charged with criminal trespassing and cited with failure to secure landowner permission to hunt. Such confrontations are not new to Montana. But never before have they been so numerous, as battles over access to public land grow more intense – and, sometimes, more threatening – across the western United States. Montana’s population recently crested one million, and more people came to the state during the pandemic. In 2021, one Missoula lender reported a 45-per-cent increase in the share of homes acquired by out-of-state buyers, although most homes are still bought by local residents.

Adobetown Road is one of several flashpoints in the western United States over the issue of access to public land. In Montana, the fourth-largest state in the U.S., major financial interests are at play. No other state owes more of its economy to recreation. The radiologist has in turn told Dr. Sherman he can fish there, saying it’s others he wants to keep out. Dr. Sherman rejected the offer. It is, he says, a matter of principle. “I’m an advocate of rivers. It’s very important to me,” he said. “AndOn Adobetown Road, meanwhile, the current landowner, Heroes and Horses, has agreed to leave the gates unlocked. The organization brings in veterans for working-ranch programs that include cold plunges and pack trips.

Source: Law Daily Report (lawdailyreport.net)

 

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