District ranger worked to prevent loss of public access


I have gotten to know District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz in recent years while researching and writing about access to Montana’s public lands, particularly those in the Crazy Mountains.

As the local Forest Service leader assigned to manage the southern Crazies, Alex inherited a notoriously checkerboarded patch of national forest. Several roads and trails there have historically provided public access through the checkerboard but lack documented easements (pieces of paper that say a route is public). Conflict over these routes has smoldered for decades. Alex did not create this problem.

What I have observed is that Alex has done everything in his power to prevent more access from being lost. His actions stem from his conviction that he should serve the large majority of public land users — those who visit the mountains to hike or ride horses, hunt or fish, mountain bike or motorbike — and not just the few who own property bordering national forest.

Several landowners in the Crazies are essentially privatizing the public resource by gating or signing trails that are formally designated in the Forest Service travel plan while outfitting or grazing on the national forest at bargain rates. I have heard legitimate concerns about the public use, but mostly the closures seem to involve a profit motive or basic stinginess.

That is what Alex stood up to. I have observed that he knows and respects the law and the Forest Service policies. He just held the line where other land managers would have caved. I believe that’s all he was doing when he was temporarily “reassigned,” after a few landowners evidently complained to the Trump administration and Sen. Steve Daines.

We were lucky to have Alex as our district ranger. I hope we get him back.

Marshall Swearingen