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Checkerboard Ownership Puts Acres Off-limits

Like Wyoming, Montana has vast acreages of public land effectively off-limits to members of the recreating public. OnX estimates the public is unable to access more than 871,000 acres of public land due to checkerboard ownership patterns. Most of that acreage is administered by federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Also like Wyoming, Montana’s Legislature has taken up the issue. In 2013, the House of Representatives balked at advancing House Bill 235, which would have legalized corner crossing. Four years later, an effort to criminalize the practice stalled. House Bill 566 sought to make corner crossing without landowner permission a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail. A hearing on HB 566 was canceled the day before the House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to take public testimony, and the measure died.

The complications posed by checkerboard ownership patterns also inform other sensitive land management conversations. The Custer Gallatin National Forest recently approved a land swap on the south side of the Crazy Mountains, for example, and agency leadership is currently mulling over a proposal to consolidate checkerboard land on the range’s east side.

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