Land Grab on the Eastern Slope of the Rockies

The Front Line

by Jim Anderson
In recent weeks the Rocky Mountain Front is making news because of a possible oil boom.  This has caused quite a stir.  People for and against oil are holding meetings either promoting the benefits of an oil economy or are attempting to convince the public that the drinking water will catch on fire if drilling occurs.  Meanwhile, quietly behind the scenes over 18,000 acres of public lands are about to become the private playground for David Letterman.

West of Choteau, located between the Teton and Sun Rivers is the Deep Creek Ranch owned by the late night talk show host.  Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat, is presenting legislation in Congress this week which if passed will create thousands of new wilderness acres along the Front.  Part of this acreage is called the Deep Creek addition.  Nowhere along the Front does this proposed new wilderness come down and touch private land except where the Deep Creek addition borders up to the Deep Creek Ranch.  A map showing the Deep Creek addition can be found on the Senators web site.

At one time sportsmen and recreationists had access to this area via County Road 380.  Unfortunately, a local rancher illegally shut the road off in 1988.  The legislature had passed a law requiring ranchers to allow hunting on leased state land if it bordered a public access such as a county road.  The rancher instead of allowing the public the right of entry to several sections of state land connecting to BLM, National Forrest, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, blocked the road.  Eventually, the rancher sold part of his ranch to Letterman and then gave him an easement to our county road.  Today, at the end of county road 380 is a horse barn built by the Deep Creek ranch which is so large it can easily be seen on Google Earth.

The Teton County commissioners have failed the people by not declaring the road open.  In 1988 they should have immediately taken action.  Instead, because the rancher allowed access to several local people it didn’t become an issue until Letterman purchased his Deep Creek Ranch.  It really came to a head when the Heritage Act, written in large part by the Wilderness Association and the Wildlife Federation, revealed their plan.  They encouraged hunters and sportsmen to support their proposed legislation saying they were saving the land for future generations, taking care of weeds, and creating more wilderness for everyone to enjoy.

With the arrival of several new out of state owners along the Front also wanting further road closures, angry outdoorsmen have organized and are insisting for access on these roads.  One landowner removed a bridge on the Boadle road and has refused the courts instructions to put it back and open the road.  The Public Land and Water Access group has filed suit regarding this road.  It looks like a lawsuit will take place over County Road 380 also.

It would only make sense that the Heritage Act folks would want County Road 380 to remain open so the public could enjoy those new acres of proposed wilderness.  However, the main architects of the Heritage Act want that road kept closed.  This has aroused suspicion with many along the Front.  Who benefits if sportsmen and recreationists are not allowed to access this area?  Obviously, only David Letterman and his private guests.  When pressed about the dollar amount Letterman has contributed to the Heritage Act project, no one seems to know or is willing to admit.  Once the Deep Creek addition borders the Deep Creek ranch, in my opinion, it will quadruple the value of the ranch property.  For anyone other than a private guest of Letterman access to the Deep Creek addition, will require a horseback ride or hike in from the Teton or Sun Rivers.  Either access will be more than ten miles through rough mountain terrain.

Senator Baucus was asked about these concerns.  He responded that he is always in favor of helping sportsmen gain access.  He either doesn’t understand about an obvious land grab or he is providing a large donor with their own private wilderness.  These types of policies have been prevalent throughout the current administration in Washington.  Political analysts are predicting that conservatives could pick up as many as ten more seats in the Senate this fall.  I would think the Senator would be more in tune with sportsmen and recreationists who also vote.

Jim Anderson, is a Montana Native, Choteau businessman, and resident of the Rocky Mountain Front

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Author: montanaoilreport

After my first job at a newspaper -- delivering papers for the Jackson (TN) Sun, ink was in my veins. Since the 1970's I've worked in every area of the Printing and Publishing industry, with most of that time spent in the pressroom. In 2008 I moved to Montana and purchased the Sun Times of Fairfield (fairfieldsuntimes.com). In 2011 I realized that most media outlets were either ignoring, or attacking, the growing oil and gas industry in Montana, so I started the Montana Oil Report as the source of information on this important industry.

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