The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is among Montana’s most endangered locations for public lands access because a pair of blocked roads have cut-off over 60,000 acres of the monument. These two bottlenecks – one on the north side of the river and one on the south – have made large swaths of this incredible landscape very difficult to access.
The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument was designated in 2001 to protect this spectacular landscape for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation, as well as for its historic values. The area offers excellent hunting for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and waterfowl and upland birds in addition to boating, wildlife watching, and hiking. There are about half a dozen access points into the monument.
The Breaks became difficult to reach on the north side after the Bullwhacker Road, which was long open to the public, was closed off by a landowner in 2009. The property has since changed ownership, but remains closed. The closure of Bullwhacker Road cut-off 50,000 acres of public land in the Breaks, and led to a sharp decrease in sporting and recreation opportunity. On the south side of the Breaks, the Mabee Road was blocked over a decade ago after a change in ownership of a parcel of private land it passes through. The closure of the Mabee Road leaves roughly 12,000 acres of prime public lands off-limits for outdoor recreation.
The Bullwhacker Road closure was challenged in district court by the Public Land/Water Access Association (PLWA), but a district judge ruled the historic record was inconclusive on whether it was a public route, despite half a century of public use. PLWA is still in court with the landowner in the case of the Mabee Road, working to restore public access to the south side of the Monument through this historic route.