Photo credit: Missoula Current
Two untrustworthy players, playing a game we know little to nothing about, except that if the past is prologue, we need another Yellowstone Club like a hole in the head. Remembering the Lee Metcalf Wilderness trade-off (Jack Creek road) and Gallatin I and Gallatin II land exchanges, which I opposed, with only a handful of like-minded souls who could see the disaster (Big Sky/Yellowstone Club et al.) long before it materialized. I cannot figure out what the Crow nation sees in this by accepting anything less than original, absolute title to their sacred land. My .02, off the top of my head.
Anyone can submit commments. If you do not submit comments, you will be most likely barred from entering a federal court challenge due to lack of “standing.” Clever, aren’t they?
Forest Service seeks comments on Crazy Mountains land exchange proposal
The public now has the opportunity to weigh in on a proposed land exchange that’s been brewing for four years on the east side of the Crazy Mountains, an idea first formulated by a group that includes area landowners.
The Custer Gallatin National Forest released a Preliminary Environmental Assessment for the East Crazy Inspiration Divide Land Exchange Projecton Wednesday morning, signaling a possible resolution to what has been a long-simmering dispute over public access to the region.
The agreement would exchange 4,135 acres (10 parcels) of forest lands for 6,430 acres of private lands (11 parcels), owned by six private property owners in the Crazy Mountains and near the Inspiration Divide Trail in Big Sky. The land near Big Sky is sought by the Yellowstone Club, a private community of multi-millionaires.
Also as part of the deal, the landowners would fund construction of a new 22-mile trail into the Crazy Mountains on forest land. The Sweet Trunk Trail No. 274 would provide permanent access to the east side of the island mountain range from Big Timber Creek to Sweet Grass Creek. The trail would also tie into existing forest trails to create a 40-mile loop.
Western Land Group, hired by the Yellowstone Club in 2018 to facilitate the exchange, submitted its land exchange proposal to the Forest Service in July 2020. After feedback from the agency, the company modified its proposal and submitted a final plan in July 2021.
In August, the Yellowstone Club sweetened the deal by adding another 640-acre Crazy Mountain Ranch inholding southwest of Crazy Peak that includes Smeller Lake, according to the environmental assessment. That parcel had been identified by the Forest Service as valuable in a previous south Crazies land exchange, but was later excluded following public comment. Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson said her agency proposed including the Smeller Lake parcel to consolidate Forest Service holdings in that area.
In October, the Forest Service entered into a nonbinding agreement with Western Land to pursue the exchange.
“This proposal brings forward a cooperative solution that we believe will provide long-term public access, meaningful resource and recreation benefits while consolidating public lands in the Crazy Mountains,” the Forest Service wrote in the preliminary EA.
The 45-day public comment period on the proposal runs through Dec. 23 at midnight. The Forest will host public meetings in Bozeman on Nov. 15 and Big Timber on Nov. 16 to discuss the proposed exchange and answer questions.
The public meetings will be held at 6 p.m. at The Commons (1794 East Baxter Lane) in Bozeman and at the Big Timber Elementary School (501 Anderson St.). There will be an option to join virtually for each meeting.
“The Crazy Mountain’s checkerboard ownership pattern of private and public lands has contributed to over a century of complicated management situations and problematic access issues for all users,” the Forest Service wrote in a statement.
Those complicated situations included land exchanges along the west and south sides of the Crazies by the Custer Gallatin National Forest to try and consolidate public lands while rerouting old trails that, in one case, prompted a lawsuit.
Other benefits of the proposed east side Crazies land exchange the Forest Service touted include: Creating large areas of contiguous and clearly identifiable National Forest System lands; Increasing federal ownership to protect sensitive areas within the Crazy Mountains; Reducing the potential for development on 10 sections of private lands interior to and comingled with NFS lands; Redesigning and improving the Big Timber Canyon Trailhead to provide better parking.
In the Big Sky area, the exchange would move about 2 miles of Inspiration Divide Trail No. 8 that currently crosses the Yellowstone Club’s holdings. The Forest Service would exchange 500 acres of steep expert ski terrain for 60 acres of mid-elevation lands. The land is located between Cedar and Pioneer mountains.
As a sideline to the proposal, the landowners are offering to permanently protect Crazy Peak, an important cultural and historic site for the Crow Tribe. The protection would include a conservation easement and access to tribal members for cultural practices.
“It’s time to move forward with this plan that will connect people to one of our state’s greatest treasures — the sacred Crazy Mountains,” said Shane Doyle, a Crow Tribal member, in a statement.
Erickson encouraged people to read the proposal since the agency worked hard to describe the benefits and trade-offs. Hopefully the document will dispel “wild rumors” that have been circulating, she added.
Although hunters in the past have opposed trading low elevation habitat for higher mountain land, Erickson said without the exchange several of those lower elevation forest parcels are inaccessible anyway. Consolidating the property makes it easier for the agency to manage, she added.
Acknowledging the Crazy Mountains have generated lots of interest and passion over longstanding access disputes, Erickson said if the issue was simple to resolve it would have been done decades ago. As now written, she added the Forest Service believes the current proposal would address many of the needs for public access in the area.
Written comments must be submitted electronically, through the Forest Service’s CARA database, which is available online at: https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=63115; or by mail to ATTN: Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, PO Box 130, Bozeman, MT 59771. Electronic comments must be submitted in: Word, PDF, or Excel format.