Setting the record straight on The Crazy Mountains Working Group

Friday, August 9, 2019


The Crazy Mountain Stockgrowers Association would like to set the record straight for the general public regarding Erica Lighthiser, and the object of The Crazy Mountains Working Group. But first, let’s celebrate, as a community that ‘The Crazies’ will have an unencumbered and undisputed trail access for Porcupine Trail. This is something that has been needed for a long time, and it is a victory for public lands access for Montanans.

The Crazy Mountains Working Group is a conglomeration of many diverse interests, including farmers and ranchers, the USFS, Park County Environmental Council, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Wildlife Federation, among others. Having Erica’s active and voluntary participation was critical to the group dynamics. We commend her for making the effort to work with folks she may not ideologically align with on other issues, and we would like to see more neighbors reaching out in this fashion. We don’t all have to agree on everything, but we can find ways to live with our differences when we seek to find common ground. Erica has represented a conservationist perspective, which this group needed to affectively deal with the access issue as a community. Erica’s efforts, alongside those of the group, and a very generous private property owner, made this new unrestricted access a success.

The Crazy Mountains Working Group was originally started by those interested in creating a space for conversations working towards practical public access solutions. Conservationists and Montana property owners are not mutually exclusive groups. 

Montanans, all Montanans, love the landscape we get to call home. 

We are all grateful for wooded forests, wide open acreage, beautiful streams and hunting land, and we all are especially grateful to have so much of it owned by the public. When you read Joseph Bullington’s comments in his August 2 column in The Livingston Enterprise, you might get the impression that these two groups cannot live in community together, however, there is common ground, and this group has found it. We all love Montana, and these public lands are the heart of our communities. These communities are made up of all sorts of folks, and despite some nay-sayers, this isn’t about wealthy landowners locking out people who will never own large acreage. This is about community effort to find access solutions with good ol’ fashioned community conversation. 

We appreciate Bullington’s love of the land, and we share that in common with him. He quotes Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz, “For most kids in Montana and in our nation, the national forest is the only ‘ranch’ they’ll ever own.” This may be true, but we are fortunate to live in a country where each person can pursue the lifestyle they desire. Multigenerational farm and ranch families should not be condemned, but rather celebrated alongside the conservationists, because we are all stewards of Montana lands. And, like many of the conservationists and environmentalists, ranch and farm kids love our public lands as well.

 So let’s not politicize and polarize our community with misinformation. Let’s partner up, sit down at the table and talk about a solution, like Erica, who has used her voice for a productive beneficial outcome.

A final thought to consider, the Bozeman population has gone from 67,831 in 2000, to 111,876 in 2019.  With such growth near this mountain range, there is going to be increased use of public land.  

If routes are not clearly laid out and marked, or there is confusion over trails because of change in agreements between landowners and U.S.F.S, then increased traffic is only going to increase that confusion. As a private property owner, when you have increased utilization of your land it can create all sorts of issues. Every property owner understands that this can be problematic. In Montana we cherish private property ownership along with public land access, and we have been doing this successfully since our founding. Finding solutions comes with doing the hard work of building relationships and communicating. We commend Erica for stepping up to represent interests she believes in and joining a group searching for practical solutions. It is also commendable of the private landowner to donate easements, and work with a growing community to assure we can all enjoy our great state.

We live in a day and age where every issue is politicized, and public access issues are no different. With 9.5 million acres of landlocked public land, and the growth in western United States, this is sure to be a growing problem.  It is our hope The Crazy Mountains Working Group can serve as an example of things done the American way.

Stacy Donald

Vice President Crazy Mountain Stockgrowers Association

Big Timber