HELENA (AP) — No trespassing signs and locked gates on 670 acres of land owned by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Mullan Pass appear to contradict his campaign pledge to not allow outsiders to buy up land and restrict public access.
The Independent Record reports that Schweitzer closed access to the land he had just bought in 2008 about the same time he was running for a second term as governor and pledging to continue public access to recreational land.
Schweitzer's actions do not prevent access to public land in the area, but they do close private land that had previously been open to snowmobilers, hunters and anglers.
The Democratic governor said he's had problems with vandalism and poachers on the land, but that he'll probably allow people to access the land if they ask his permission.
"Last year I had cattle shot, last summer every gate on the ranch was torn down and the cabin was broken into several times," he said. "Fish, Wildlife and Parks called me the year before and explained they had five people who poached elk, didn't have a hunting license and wanted to know if they had permission to be there. I never heard of any of those people. I didn't want to prosecute because I didn't want to get sideways in that, but if you want to hunt on a ranch you ask for permission."
Besides the no trespassing signs and locked gates, Schweitzer also put up a fence along a road that runs through the property.
People in the area told the newspaper landowners have the right to close private land, but that they still felt the loss of not being able to go on land they could access before Schweitzer bought it. Fred Bailey, with the Helena Snowdrifters club, said snowmobilers liked to use the land.
"It was a very popular area and was never vandalized before," Bailey said. "There's never been any kind of written agreement. We just appreciated that we knew we could ride there. Then all that fence went up and those signs that don't imply they'll be any permission to go there."
On another front, about $330,000 in federal stimulus money was used this year to improve a road going by Schweitzer's land. The U.S. Forest Service said the road has been on a list for a long time to be improved, that it fit the stimulus criteria along with two other roads, and that it's just a coincidence it goes by Schweitzer's land.
"It's the first section for us to do on Hope and Dog Creek roads if we want to get to other sections farther up," said Eric Barclay, a Helena National Forest engineer.
Schweitzer said he purchased the three parcels in the area because of their remoteness, and is angry about the road being upgraded because it makes the area less remote.