Crazy Mountains Update

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?

steve k

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:; 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.

6 thoughts on “Crazy Mountains Update

    1. With pleasure, Baja Az. I received 2% running as a Green Candidate in my local HD 61. This concludes my involvement in politics, voting, registering, paying fees, etc. Learned a few things I did not know. Frankly, it’s embarassing at this point in my life. However, I remain a hypocrite (Greek definition), just a non-political one.


      1. SK, you entered the pig wallow with a pure heart, and emerged unsullied, no mean feat. To me, there is honor in that. I trust you will continue to pressure the agents of the hive mind as a private citizen, which is also to be honored. All we can do is resist; it’s an obligation and a compulsion. Kudos!


  1. One aspect of this matter involves a court decision (along with an appeal that was way too quickly granted in favor of members of Yellowstone Club) that closed off much of the northern part of the Crazies, which like so much of public policy regarding public lands, seemed orchestrated. The judges looked bought. (Gasp! In America?)

    Crazy times, a follow-up

    I have been through these public comment things before, and do not trust the people behind them. The law requires them, and Forest Service is obligated to note each comment and respond and publicize it. But it appears to me that the court decisions that took much of the northern Crazies out of public access were done to facilitate this solution, to create a problem, then solve a problem. You are a modern day Diogenes, Steve. Have you found that honest man yet? I’ve been looking too, and found you and others on this blog. Thankfully.

    One aspect of public policy that has always chapped me … inholdings. If I hold title to land that is surrounded by public lands on all sides, I cannot be prevented access, including building roads to get there. Fair enough. If public lands are surrounded by private lands, landowners can legally Prevent public access, effectively making public land a private resort. This is a problem in the Crazies, and what the corrupt legal decisions that froze the northern Crazies from public access promoted. Have at it Diogenes.


    1. Of course, corruption is the foundation of government, who actually owns all the land, even our homes, in which we live as tenants or occupants. I have, with the help of like-minded friends protected (temporarily, of course) large tracts of land we call fish and wildlife habitat using the state’s laws. Judges are actors, like everyone, who occasionally rule in favor of our argument(s). So far it has been well worth the investment of time and money required to play their game on their playing field — federal administrative rules and statutes. We also dabble in legislation and media, which is more liable to be so corrupt that less effort makes more sense. Endless pressure, endlessly applied pretty much sums up the bottom line in this kind of work.

      I am reading the Crow nation treaty with the U.S. government, hoping to find a path to challenge the “absolute” title to the Crazy Mountains claimed by the feds. A new approach for me, but quite interesting so far.


  2. From the Crow Treaty, Article II: “…shall be and the same is, set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named…”

    So, as is evident from the language of the terms and conditions of the “contract,” possession or soverign (absolute) title to the land is reserved by the U.S. government.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s