The Bearpaw Mountains south of Havre consist largely of private and tribal lands. However, the south slope of the Bearpaws lead to thousands of acres of public U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) lands. For decades, Montanans accessed the Bearpaws via the south slope route. The sagebrush-steppe area is well known for elk, abundant deer and antelope, and its excellent upland game bird hunting. But these public wildlife resources are now no longer available to the majority of Montanans.
For years, hunters and other recreationists have relied on the ability to access public lands south of the Bearpaw Mountains through the courtesy of private landowners. In recent years, many of these ranches have changed hands and have been leased for exclusive hunting access for those who can afford it. These changes have blocked the public from thousands of acres of public land to the south.
The issue is difficult to resolve, but Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) could acquire a voluntary conservation easement on a ranch in the area that would provide public hunting access, as well as access to the adjoining public lands. The easement would be an important step toward fair public access in the Bearpaws. Hunters and anglers continue to look for additional incentives for landowners to share access to adjacent public lands.