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A proposed land exchange in the Custer Gallatin National Forest is a new case study in the art of the possible.

Public land users who want to hunt and camp in Montana’s Crazy Mountains and private landowners who ranch on the outskirts are dog-tired tired of fighting. Instead of lawyering up in the courts, we worked together on a durable compromise that would create public access and protect landowners.

The East Crazy Mountains and Inspiration Divide agreement is citizen-proposal that would consolidate public lands and create new public access and outdoor opportunity on the eastern side of the Crazy Mountains and for the Lee Metcalf Wilderness just outside Big Sky.

The agreement is a home-grown solution that bears all the hallmarks of any good compromise where everyone gets something but no one party gets everything they want.

Under the current proposal, public land users would receive a net gain of 1,566 acres and more consolidated public lands to improve wildlife security and outdoor recreation. Hunters, hikers, and anglers would also receive legal access in the East Crazy Mountains and Madison Range where none currently exists and the construction of a new trail system through the Crazy Mountains.

For private landowners, that new trail system will resolve a long-simmering access dispute on East Trunk Trail #136. Trail #136 shown on maps currently meanders through five sections of private land. It has been the topic of multiple well-documented disputes over its legality and location. A new and improved trail system on consolidated public lands would clear up uncertainty for both landowners and for the public land users who risk trespass violations on the current trail.

The proposed trail system is projected to cost $1 million, but it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. As part of this agreement the Yellowstone Club has offered to pay all costs for environmental analysis and construction. Yellowstone Club is not only agreeing to finance the new trail. They have been a good-faith partner and contributed valuable expertise and staff capacity in this effort to bring folks together and enhance public access in both the Crazy Mountains and the Madison Range.

We understand finding common ground does not appeal to everyone. Some folks are not programmed to meet half-way and that is ok. We are not taking away their choice to fight. Instead, we are proposing an alternative model for the rest of Montana who wants to create certainty and recognizes that nobody benefits from the current status-quo.

We invite Montanans to learn more about this citizen-proposal at our coalition website www.crazymountainproject.com. There is currently a 30-day opportunity for anyone to offer feedback and provide insights both online or by attending one of four open houses. Those open houses will follow all state and local health guidance and will be staffed by our dedicated coalition of public land users and landowner volunteers who are familiar with the proposal.

Our short-term goal is to incorporate any constructive ideas into a final proposal that will be submitted to the U.S. Forest Service and Montana’s congressional delegation. Our long-term goal is to show Montanans can work together to resolve uncertainty, enhance public access, and protect our traditions without lawyers.

Only by finding common ground can we build the types of enduring solutions that will protect our Montana way of life for future generations.

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John Salazar is a public lands hunter and a board member for the Montana Wildlife Federation. Lorents Grosfield is a rancher and former state lawmaker based in Big Timber. They are both members of the Crazy Mountain Access Project.