By Montana Grant

Posted: May 15, 2022


For the record, I am so against the flow of where our public waters and lands are headed. After a lifetime of public land and water freedoms, it is hard to watch our resources end up being lost and destroyed.

The “Good Old Days” are gone. It is awful to say that. Public access is shrinking. What is left is more crowded and overused. Access is controlled by the wealthy and their political cronies. 

You can place blame on many issues. The movie “A River Runs Through it” certainly gets plenty of blame. Climate change or Global Warming has heated things up. Annual forest fires are ravaging our watersheds. Management changes have altered future fishery and big game outcomes. Big Money and out of state greed is also taking a huge bite out of our Big Sky Country.

Private land buyers are targeting our wonderful open spaces. These deep pocketed, selfish land grabbers can afford to suck up property for their own wants and needs. Fences goes up, access goes down, and only the “Chosen Ones” get to experience what we all once enjoyed.

Back in the Day, you could knock on a rancher’s door and get access to hunt and fish. Good luck with gaining access today. These remote waters and woods are earmarked for just family, friends, and leasers. Money talks and everything else walks.

Another example of a lost fishery is underway. Willow Creek drains out of Harrison Reservoir, in SW Montana. This small creek flows through a narrow canyon. There are no trails, plenty of rattlesnakes, and great fishing. The private owners allowed access for decades. You simply had to make a reservation. It was such a treat to spend a few days on this uncrowded and beautiful water. As a Scoutmaster, I would take my Scouts to catch their Fly Fishing Merit Badge on this creek. A new private landowner has just purchased this property and shut it down. No more reservations, access, or public use. The new owner plans to allow Wounded Warriors to use the fishery. Good luck with that. The snakes and rough access will be an issue, but I guess the landowner will be able to declare some kind of tax benefit.

Our Blue-Ribbon Waters have been overfished, dewatered, and loved to death. Fishing access parking areas are overflowing. Out of staters flow into the rivers and rip lips with gusto. Guides make a few bucks giving away the keys to the fishing and hunting castle. Local fly shops, shuttle services, rentals, and guides are all a flutter with dollar signs in their eyes.

Native trout management wants to return fisheries to the way they used to be. “Wild trout” are being poisoned so that “Native”, less evolutionarily fit, cutthroats can be reintroduced. Stocking fish is now considered a sin even though many of prestigious fisheries are a result of stocked fish.

It is hard to watch our once great hunting and fishery opportunities dry up. Just a few decades ago, we still had wonderful public adventures for all. Then came the crowds. Huge campers and RV’s, vast acreages bought up and posted, National Parks are bumper to bumper, Montana has become Disneyland. You must pay to play. Those of us that have enjoyed a lifetime of the Last Best Place, are saddened by the wave of change.

For many of us, we will still find a few fish to catch and remember the good old days. I feel sorry for those in the future that will never see Montana the way we did as kids. A vast public playground where great hunting and fishing were taken for granted.

I wish that I was completely wrong. The wealthy folks closing off access will simply ignore us or put us down. More for them is great, less for us is better. Their future only requires a fat wallet. Our future is doomed to more regulations, private fencing, lost access, crowds, and competition.

If we want more public access, the public must speak up. Otherwise, the Last Best Place will just be another story about the Good Old Days.

Montana Grant

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