I’ve had the pleasure of working in the conservation world for over 30 years — most of that time spent in our region. Among the most inspiring partnerships I’ve followed is the evolving coalition of landowners, hunters/anglers, recreation interests and conservationists around the Crazy Mountains.
This group of folks is working to set aside decades-long disputes to find common ground and common sense solutions to access and ownership patterns in the Crazies. This group realizes that relying on the courts or the federal government to solve these problems is a never-ending deal in which nobody wins in the end.
It just never ends. Along comes a new partner — the Yellowstone Club — who with their own interests in mind is seeking to trade into a 500-acre piece of ground adjacent to the Club’s ski area so that their guests can access a high elevation bowl to ski. When they approached the Forest Service about this, the Forest Service wisely told them that they better sweeten the pot for the public whose ground this is so the Yellowstone Club worked to put together this deal in the East Crazies.
In it, the public will receive 5,205 acres in exchange for 3,614 acres — a net increase of 1,591 acres of public land. Importantly, public land is being consolidated into a big block — a 30,000 acre block of public land. A core principal of conservation biology, as well as common sense, is that bigger blocks of habitat are better than small, chopped up ones. Therefore, from a biological standpoint, this exchange makes sense for all the critters who rely on wild country as well as the human critters who like myself, enjoy chasing those critters around.
Why ANY group that cares about wildlife would oppose such a trade is beyond my comprehension. The ongoing issue of the East Trunk trail is a thorny one that does not have a clear history nor a clear future. What is clear is that more litigation will not likely solve the problem anytime soon.
The offer to build a new trail with clear public access is a good deal – it provides a link to where folks want to go — certainly not a day hike round trip unless you’re super burly but it sure checks the box of public access, whereas the current situation with the East Trunk trail does not.
As to the involvement of the Yellowstone Club putting together this deal, my response is — so what? They have a clearly identified self-interest but they have also put together a deal that is not only embraced by the landowners and other responsible stakeholder groups, but it’s a net positive benefit to public.
The important thing is that this deal go through the regular environmental review and formal public comment period that all proposed public land projects must go through. Project proponents should not fret inevitable legal action — as was shown on the west side trail project, the legal arguments are weak, lawsuits will be dismissed and the project will move forward — with public input and appropriate environmental analysis.
Bottom line is the East Crazies Land Exchange is a good deal for the public and a good deal for the wildlife and the long-time landowners who live in this amazing place. My advice to project opponents is to up your game and join the party. Hanging on to how you would like the world to be while the world moves on without you is not a flattering look.
Tim Stevens, Livingston