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Nearly 2 million acres of public land in Montana are landlocked and inaccessible for public use, including 724,000 acres because the public cannot cross corners and 1,231,000 acres fully landlocked by private lands. Several additional millions of acres of public land are made effectively inaccessible for lack of reasonable access across private lands.

Private landowners that block access to public land enjoy the exclusive use of and unfairly benefit from the recreational and resource values of those public lands. Most federal and state lands are open to hunting, fishing, and general recreation. But the public cannot enjoy these benefits if they cannot access the land. Most state and federal lands are open to grazing, timber, outfitting, and other special use permits. But if others have no access to these lands, they cannot fairly compete for permits. And, if public land and wildlife managers cannot access public lands, they cannot effectively manage those lands and resources.

Private landowners rightfully defend their fundamental right to acquire and protect private property, including the right to deny public access without just compensation and due process of law. But, a person’s inalienable right to pursue, possess, and protect property, like all other rights, is constrained by the responsibility not to infringe upon other’s rights or cause injury to other persons or the commonwealth.

Federal and state law provides for the acquiring of rights-of-way for public use with just compensation and due process (MCA 70-30), however, the government has rarely exercised its power of eminent domain to create public rights-of-way to landlocked public lands. Other attempts to resolve access issues like Montana FWP’s Block Management, Unlocking Public Lands Program, and the non-governmental efforts of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Public Lands/Water Access Association, and others have certainly helped. Still, millions of acres of public land remain inaccessible.

We the people should respect private property rights. But landowners should not abuse that respect and right by blocking reasonable access to public lands and unfairly benefiting from the exclusive control of public land and resources.

— Floyd Bentley, Lewistown

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