For more than 10 years, Gallatin County has worked to resolve disagreements with the U.S. Forest Service over a road southeast of Bozeman.

The county commissioners asked U.S. Sen. Steve Daines on Monday to help bring the Forest Service to the table, so the two groups can settle a lawsuit regarding Bear Canyon Road. Daines said he will contact the Forest Service and urge the agency to complete its settlement with the county.

At Monday’s meeting, Daines asked the county commissioners for background on the case and requested that they send him additional details — particularly regarding the settlement — before he reaches out the Forest Service.

“You’re probably just one more project in a bureaucratic stack down in someone’s office,” he said.

The Forest Service didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

The dispute over Bear Canyon Road dates back more than a decade. The county road, at the mouth of Bear Canyon, crosses state and federal land. It ultimately reaches a private ski area where a gate blocks vehicles wider than 50 inches. After the gate, the road becomes a dirt trail that is popular for recreation and that follows Bear Creek, a tributary of the East Gallatin River.

In 2007, the Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation blocked a section of the county road and replaced it with a new dirt trail a few hundred yards farther from Bear Creek to preserve water quality and limit erosion.

The county filed two lawsuits — one against the federal government and one against the state — for demolishing its road.

The county and state settled in February. Since then, the county and Forest Service have been working on a settlement in the federal case.

“It’s been over a decade,” Commissioner Joe Skinner said. “It’s time we get this off our plate.”

A few months ago, the county commissioners and the Forest Service met to discuss a draft settlement agreement. At the time, it appeared that both groups supported the agreement, Commissioner Don Seifert said. Since then, the commissioners haven’t heard from the Forest Service and have been unable to resolve the lawsuit.

The settlement would leave ownership of the road with the county but allow the Forest Service to maintain it with some restrictions, Skinner said.

“This is the last step,” Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said. “It puts us up against a wall. … We don’t have any other options we can take. If (the Forest Service) doesn’t respond, we’ll have to go back to court, which we don’t want to do.”

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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