Havre Daily News
A statewide hunting and fishing advocacy group will hold a meeting Thursday night to discuss whether a road leading into the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is public or private.
Bill and Ronnie Robinson, who ranch about 50 miles south of Chinook, have restricted access to Bullwhacker Road, which runs through their property just north of the monument. Damage to the roadway and opened gates prompted the Robinsons to require that people get permission before traveling down the road, Ronnie Robinson said today.
"In the years past, we've had a lot of problems with that," she said. "We're not closing the road down. We're just asking for permission."
The Robinsons have simplified the process to gain access this year, she said, and have received positive comments from hunters who have used the area.
The Montana Wildlife Federation contends that Bullwhacker Road is public and that the Robinsons cannot limit access to it. The three-mile road runs from a county road to U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.
"In our opinion, it is (public)," said federation conservation director Larry Copenhaver.
Copenhaver said the organization believes the road is an old BLM roadway. The Montana Wildlife Federation compared a 1917 bureau map that shows the road with a current map. He said the road shows up on both maps in the same location.
The BLM does not have an easement that would allow the public to use the road, Lewistown field manager June Bailey said today.
"Unless we've secured an easement, we don't have the authority to allow the public to cross the private sections of the road," she said. "We are trying to work with the county commissioners and the landowners to provide the public access."
The Montana Wildlife Federation is working closely with another group, Public Land and Water Access Association, Inc., which sent a letter to the Blaine County Commission asking it to declare the road a county road, Copenhaver said.
Commission chair Art Kleinjan declined to comment on the letter and said county attorney Yvonne Laird would be handling the issue. She could not be reached for comment.
Kleinjan said the county does not consider it a county road and has not maintained it. The road is listed on the county's gas tax rolls, a list of public roads the state uses to allocate road maintenance money. Kleinjan said state workers inspected the road a month ago, and the state has not yet denied it as a gas tax road. He said the list of public roads contains others that are not county roads.
Mike Badgley, a Havreite who does not hunt but enjoys travelling to the monument to take pictures, said he believes the road is public.
"I don't have a problem with them shutting their property down, but that road, it's been public for over a hundred years," Badgley said. "It's wrong to restrict access to that whole area."
Robinson said that while some have had problems with the restricted access,many hunters are in support of what she and her husband are doing. Last year, there were no problems with trespassing or damage to the road, she said.
She said the limits have kept the area from getting overcrowded with hunters, which means better hunting. Last year, they had 20 elk harvested from the area, while hunters shot only three elk the year before.
"The animals aren't getting spooked as easily," Robinson said.
For permission to access the land, contact the Robinsons at (406) 386-2261 from 6 to 8 a.m. and from 8 to 10 p.m. Those who receive permission will be given a code to write on the permission slip located at a sign-in box at the entrance to the property. The Robinsons do not allow hunting or driving on their land.
The Montana Wildlife Federation will hold its meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Holiday Village Shopping Center community room. Presentations will be given by Copenhaver and Bernard Lea of the Public Land and Water Access Association.