A road provision that was undertaken by Sen. Conrad Burns and benefits a friend was not intended to be permanent and may be reversed by the Montana senator, his spokesman says. Earlier this year, Burns added to a bill a provision that allows friend and campaign supporter Mac White to build a private road across public land near the Crazy Mountains. The provision does not provide for equal public access to nearby public lands, as federal regulations require. “The language was inserted as a placeholder” and was not intended to be permanent, said James Pendleton, spokesman for the Republican senator. Burns hoped the provision would encourage parties to reach agreement about the road issue in a discussion he intends to coordinate after the Nov. 7 election, Pendleton said. “Hunters and anglers ... are watching these (road) negotiations and we think they are inappropriate, at least in the way they have occurred so far,” Craig Sharpe of the Montana Wildlife Federation told the Lee Newspapers of Montana. At issue are roads on the east side of the Crazy Mountains, where there is scant public access to Lewis and Clark National Forest and Gallatin National Forest lands in the mountains. White, who said his family has known Burns for close to 30 years, wants to build a private road that would cross Forest Service lands so he will have access to almost two sections of his land now locked behind public land. White said the only way he now can access the land is by horse or on foot. He said forests on his land are overgrown and with no road, he is unable to thin them. Records show White has donated $2,050 in campaign funds to Burns since at least 1994, with the most recent donation occurring on May 30. The contribution was unrelated to Burns’ action on the road matter, White said. Pendleton said White contacted Burns’ office for help in 2004. White said he also talked to staff at the office of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and to Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. Both Baucus and Rehberg have written letters in support of the road White desires. White approached officials at the Lewis and Clark National Forest several years ago about building a road to his land. Dave Wanderaas, acting lands program specialist for the forest, said the Forest Service allows landowners to build private roads across public land if, in return, the agency secures public access to landlocked public lands. The Forest Service told White he could build a road across public land if he would allow the public to drive across some land he owns several miles away. Then negotiations broke down, Wanderaas said.
White did not wish to formally allow the public to drive across his land, but said Forest Service use was OK. Agency access does not satisfy the requirement for public access, and the Forest Service declined the offer, Wanderaas said. White said the land at issue always has been available to the public if people request permission to go there. In late June, Burns’ committee released its version of an Interior Department spending bill. Included was a provision that would direct the Forest Service to adopt White’s plan: The rancher would be allowed to build the road he wanted and in return, there would be federal administrative access to his lands, but no official public access. Wanderaas said the plan Burns outlined in the provision is not in the public interest. The Baucus letter, sent last November to the Forest Service chief, does not mention reciprocal public access and notes White agreed to allow agency access to his land. Baucus ended the letter by asking the chief to “see if the Forest Service can provide Mr. White with the access he needs to manage the forest health problem on his land.”