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Report: MT has most landlocked state lands in the westlands


Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff


August 22, 2019

HELENA, Montana - The public is locked out of a large chunk of Montana's state lands, according to a new report.


The analysis by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and creators of GPS hunting app onX finds the public is unable to access 1.56 million acres of state lands in Big Sky Country - the most of any state in the West.


These unreachable acres are surrounded by private lands and can mean lost recreation opportunities.


Joel Webster, director of the Center for Western Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, says there are some easy fixes.


"An agency could purchase an easement across private land to open those lands to the public or there could be a small acquisition that would tie those lands into an existing road," he explains. "So projects like that where you don't have to spend a lot of money could open up a bunch of existing lands to the public for outdoor recreation."


According to the report, three other states have more than 1 million acres of inaccessible state lands - Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.


Last year, the same two groups behind this report found more than 1.5 million acres of federal land in Montana is inaccessible.


Webster notes there are efforts to curb this trend. States across the West have created offices of outdoor recreation.


He says Montana has gone a step further, creating a public-access specialist position to work with landowners, agencies and organizations on this issue.


"Having somebody that spends their entire week thinking about this issue and trying to find ways to open these lands is super helpful," he states.


Webster says there is a federal tool at states' disposal for opening up public lands. The Land and Water Conservation Fund requires 40% of funds go to state and local projects.


However, he says funding currently varies year-to-year and that it would be most useful for Congress to make the program's funding automatic.

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