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Gating Montana: Part Two


(Below is a follow-up to JOHN HOLT’s initial story about the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Park’s imperious behavior regarding the public lands in Montana that appeared May 11, 2007 on CounterPunch.)

Since the initial story ran concerning the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks relentless use of gates to close off state (public) lands from residents and visitors alike I’ve received dozen of e-mails in support of the article along with numerous accounts of problems similar to those I detailed. Below are several emails that are representative of the responses. The only editing I’ve done is to remove any indication of the identity of the senders.


I just read your article about Gating Montana and I recall how I used to be able to camp along the Lower Madison River until the MDFWP built a camp ground just as you described and everyone was forced to camp in the developed campground instead of down along the river. When you camped along the river, you could have the sound of the running water right out your tent flap, which would lull you to sleep. Once they added the campground and you had to stay there, all you could hear was generators until late in the evening when they were finally shut off.

Have a good time out there in the middle of Montana.

* * *

Hey John,

I enjoyed the heck out of your article. I’m from Chester and remember many trips with my dad into and just off of the mountains. Specifically, I remember the sharp pair of bolt cutters that my dad had in the back of the truck to take care of situations like those that you encountered. Currently, I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay and can see some of the good that government can do when the individuals inside of it get their feet firmly on the ground and with the people. My parents tell me that Montana is turning progressive again but obviously not enough. Anyway, keep up with the submissions to Counterpunch, and I’ll keep reading from down here. Thanks for the article!

* * *

Dear Mr. Holt,

Read your article. I spent two winters on an Air Force radar installation in northern Montana in the early 70’s. I remember the abundant wildlife and catching trout on cheese and corn out of small ponds.

Unfortunately, the unchecked population growth encouraged by our government is reeking havoc on the landscape. My native Texas is experiencing the same trashing of its environment as Montana.

The roads, built in the 50 and 60’s, are almost impassable.

Much of Texas is desert. There is only one natural lake in the entire state. The aquifers are being drained, yet the population is expected to double.
Believe me, I understand your pain.

Best of luck.

* * *

John ­

Good piece on FWP’s disastrous “stewardship” of Montana’s parks, rivers, and fisheries. All true far as I can tell and I’ve been to all the places you described except for the Tongue River Reservoir site because I knew what they’d done to it.

All that aside, if you ever need them, I have the actual FWP fish planting records that shows where they were planting fish in rivers ­ and as you said, the myth that they don’t do so is totally bogus. Surprising, too, where they’ve done it. Rainbows in the Judith River…that compete with the dwindling native cutts. Browns in the Clark Fork.

Some years back (names deleted) put these guys up against the wall at the legislature over their opposition to our Future Fisheries Improvement Act ­ which fixes up spawning streams to enable natural reproduction. We took a couple million from one of their hatcheries and they went nuts. So, we went and got the river planting records and showed the legislature just what they were doing.

NOTHING has changed in FWP as far as I can tell from Schwinden (a former Montana Governor) on through Schweitzer. The head of the Parks Division now who is responsible for stuff like gating off the little road to the field at Selkirk (one of my favorite places, too), is none other than Joe Maurier. Don’t know him? No surprise. He’s one of Brian Schweitzer’s college roommates who in-migrated from Colorado parks division to Montana after BS took office. How handy. Now we have someone from a state with developed, expensive, parks running ours.

Luckily we passed the Primitive Parks Act in ’93 and put about half the parks into non-development status. Did the same for Fishing Access Sites via the administrative rules after FWP told the legislature we didn’t need to do it in law. And then made all state-owned islands “island parks” in ’97 or ’99 (can’t remember exactly which year) and made them all primitive, too. It’s the only way we could keep the agency under any semblance of control. Selkirk, by the way, is a primitive park and I’m not sure they can even get away with gating it unless they’re calling it “maintenance.” But as you wrote, there was virtually no damage caused by that two-track except for the out-of-state hunters who burned the picnic table a couple years back and the fact that FWP wouldn’t dump a load or two of gravel into the rutted area in the willows ­ you know it because you’ve been there ­ just beyond the new gate.

I’ve written about virtually all the stuff you covered before and am so glad to see someone else doing it, too. Quite frankly, the so-called “conservation” organizations, TU included, kiss FWP’s ass and won’t hold them accountable for the transgressions like those you’ve elucidated. Too bad. Those organizations are supposed to be advocating for the wildlife, the fish, and the resources — not a corrupt, authoritarian, and arrogant agency.

Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with and I’ll see what I can do.

Well, I’ll add this caveat ­ we went looking for the fish planting records where FWP bought the trout from Colorado while Colorado’s policy was to plant hatchery fish with whirling disease because their biologists thought it wouldn’t flourish in the wild. So, Colorado stocked the rivers with diseased fish there for years and Montana, believe it or not, bought eggs from Colorado hatcheries. We found the records of the buy ­ but I think they destroyed the records of where they planted those fish. I’m saying they planted them in Hebgen (as they do by the hundreds of thousands every year) and they went through the dam (no power plant), into the river, and suddenly “WHIRLING DISEASE IS DECIMATING THE MADISON!!” they yelled.

Some outfit, let me tell you. And the grim thing is, under Schweitzer the Future Fisheries money (names deleted) fought so hard to get under Republican administrations has now been reduced to a quarter or less. We had $1.75 million a year ­ Schweitzer’s administration now has it cut down to $500,000 ­ and that’s Resource Indemnity Trust Fund money that only goes to mine damaged lands first.

So, Brian Schweitzer, in my book, is exactly his initials ­ B.S.

* * *

What all of this says to me is that MDFWP has been systematically closing off public lands for its own self-absorbed purposes, and that nepotism in the form of Schweitzer appointing his old friend Maurier to the head of the agency reigns supreme as usual in Montana. More importantly all of the responses I receive indicate that large numbers of citizens, tax payers who pay MDFWP bureaucrats’ salaries, are fed up with this self-aggrandizing and non-responsive behavior. I would like to add that I can think of numerous fisheries and wildlife biologists who are doing excellent work to preserve various wild species in the state. They are not the problem. They are part of the solution.

The career bureaucrats are the problem. Period.

It might prove helpful for all of us outside of the Department (and instructive for those inside) if readers of this contacted Joe Mauurier and let him know how they feel. Contact information includes: (e-mail web page); (406) 444-3186 ­ Director’s Office; and 1420 E 6th Ave., PO Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701,

And while you’re at this let Governor Schweitzer know what you think about the job his college buddy is doing. Contact information includes: (comments web page); (406) 444-3111; FAX (406) 444-5529; and Governor Brian A. Schweitzer, Office of the Governor, Montana State Capitol Bldg. P.O. Box 200801, Helena MT 59620-0801.

Finally, I noticed that Ace Hardware has a sturdy pair of bolt cutters on sale for $38.99.

JOHN HOLT is the author of numerous books. His latest is titled Yellowstone Drift: Canoeing the Last Undammed River in the Lower 48. It will be released by the University of Nebraska Press in Spring 2008. He lives in Livingston, Montana and can be reached at:



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