gating public land

ElkFever2

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Mar 4, 2019
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Iowa
I have read about many instances of people, such as adjacent private land owners or outfitters, gating public roads in the west to block access to public land. I am really struggling to wrap my head around how this works. In the midwest, where I have done most of my hunting, this is an unthinkable scenario. The perpetrator would face fines for blocking access to fire dept and law enforcement, and the gate would be down before anyone could blink. Not to mention it would be in the newspaper the next day with the person publicly shamed.

I am planning my WY elk hunt and I am wondering what to do if I run in to this scenario. So far all I can think of is bring a bolt cutter, and if anyone complains about property destruction I will gladly reimburse them for the $5 for buying a new padlock or welding their chain back together.
 

NMGuy

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Aug 12, 2017
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Roswell, NM
The few instances I've encountered have been on roads that ended up not being public, or gates that didn't sit on the public/private boundary. Around here it isn't always easy to tell the difference between a county road and an oil/gas road. It's not easy to tell when/where the county section of road ends either. I don't know how Wyoming works, but in NM a landowner can petition the county commissioners to relinquish county control and maintenance of all or part of a road, which makes it private and allows the landowner to gate it. That road will still show up as a county road, even though it technically isn't anymore.

In one situation I took my complaints to BLM and the lady told me to cut the lock. I asked her to put that in writing so I could avoid problems. As she and I were talking, her supervisor came by and explained that the gate sits on private land and the owner has something like 30 feet of private property behind the gate so he's allowed to lock it. He also explained it is also an oil road so public access is different. If you look at that spot on a map or even some of the info Game and Fish puts out, you are led to believe the gate shouldn't be there.

So, if you encounter an instance where you feel public land is being illegally blocked, I would recommend contacting BLM or Game and Fish before cutting the lock and having a meeting with the police for destruction of property and possible trespass issues.
 

ElkFever2

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Iowa
Thank you for the clarification. I will plan on having the contact #s on hand for the land management agencies where I plan to hunt so I can call and consult. In IA the petition for acquiring access rights and maintenance responsibilities for a road is a little different, in that the state often installs an official "PRIVATE ROAD" road sign after the transfer takes place to make things clear to everyone.

Sometimes people stick their own little redneck "private road" sign in private property adjacent to a public road, but a call to the DNR will quickly reveal whether this is legit, or just some a$$hole trying to turn people away from his/her favorite public land access point. These signs are considered a nuisance, but typically the local authorities won't bother to go through the rigmarole to have them removed, so there they sit, year after year...
 

Ajax2744

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Northern Colorado
There's a road that leads to a really good chunk of state wildlife land where I hunt. Unfortunately there is a 500 yard stretch of publicly maintained road that runs through a corner of a ranch, the ranch put gates up to block the road so instead of a quick 2 minutes drive to the trailehead it is a 1 1/2 hour rutted out two track that only 4 wheelers can get to. It's unfortunate really but it's kinda how it goes I suppose.
 

MTGomer

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MT —> AZ
Don’t just put the BLM field office number in your phone.
You need to know the specific person’s name and extension that is knowledgeable of these matters in your area.
Otherwise it will become a big time suck with little to show for it, for you.
 

madtom

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Feb 2, 2017
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WY
I obviously haven't been on every county road in the state, but I haven't yet seen a locked gate across a public road. Have seen some no trespassing signs that don't compute, but that's about it. I think onx and similar resources have been around long enough to work most of those kinks out already, so you better know darn well what you're doing before you start cutting chains. Overall would be pretty surprised if you had this kind of issue on your hunt.
 

wllm1313

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Aurora, CO
Every situation is a little different, so I would definitely call the local warden or blm office. I have encountered a number of private property signs and/or fences that are 400+ yards above the actual property boundary. That being said my in-laws have a property with a public easement onto BLM. The road traverses their property then crosses a tiny sliver of BLM (100ft by 300ft) then goes back onto their property for another 1/2 mile. The gate is owned by the BLM, they (BLM) lock it for winter range protection, my in-laws have a key so that they can access their upper property. My in-laws have had a number of people get pissed at them after seeing them drive through the gate to fix fence, deal with irrigation, etc. thinking they had gated the road and yelled at various family members. There is a sign on the gate that says it's for winter range protection...reading is apparently very difficult for some people, as is spending 10min calling a warden.
 
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Mtnhuntr

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I have never seen gates blocking a public road, but have seen some "less-educated" hunters/outfitters block roads with their vehicles. Every situation is different, but if it comes down to it you need to have the game warden and/or BLM numbers in your phone.
 

Cav1

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Central Montana
As others have said, contact the local agencies for clarification if you run into it. IMHO, a substantial part of the problem is that unless there's a good district ranger dedicated to public access the Forest Service all too often has a tendency to give up a blocked access without seriously disputing it. Such an incident happened on my last district about ten years ago. The new owner of a small private inholding surrounded by National Forest decided to gate off a forest road where it ran about 100 yards through the corner of his property and even showed up armed to turn back members of the public trying to use the road. The ranger at the time treated it totally hands-off, told USFS employees to avoid the whole area, and passed the buck entirely to the county to deal with. We moved 250 miles east not long afterwards so I never heard how or if that situation was ever resolved. In the most recent case in the area where I live now, to re-open a trailhead the USFS built a new road around a 130-acre private in-holding whose new owner had gated the road. It was a victory of sorts and I'm grateful to have it but, like you, I can't help but wonder why there are no legal repurcussions for the individual who decided to just up and close a road that's been in public use for nearly a century.
 

COEngineer

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I know of a gated road into a National Preserve that allows hunters to cross the public land, but not hunt on it. There are several private landowners that have grandfathered legal access via that road into their in-holdings. So, yea, there are a lot of unique situations out there, so unless you REALLY know what you're doing, I wouldn't go cutting any locks.
 

sdkhunter

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Apr 13, 2012
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I agree with what many have said, each situation can be different. In some cases the NF will close down vehicle traffic and lock gates - doesn't mean you can't hunt down the road - just that you have to hike in... While some have run into gates that are illegally locked. Personally, I wouldn't worry about it - I've hunted all over the West in the last 20 years and I've never felt the need or been brave enough to cut any locks... Park at a wrongly posted or locked gate and walk back, sure, but cutting locks, IMO is a whole new game... I would venture to say you'll be more apt to run into gates or roads that are technically open but are posted to make it look like private or that there is no hunting....
 

davinski

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Western Colorado
You may want to have the county sheriff's office non-emergency number plugged in as well. Most depts will have deputies who are well-versed in road and land situations in localized areas of the county. Not always, I might just be spoiled, but I would weight the SO equally in your kit of tools that include the BLM or USFS. Often, landowners have a better relationship with the SO than the feds, so it can help keep a situation at a low simmer rather than a full boil. Counties also usually have pretty good information at hand regarding whether a road is a public County road or not since their maintenance crews need to know their stopping points. All this may or may not be accurate from a gnatsass land surveyor's perspective, there are plenty of those conflicts to go around. But you'll need to decide which fights you want to pick in the field in your short hunting season. All good information in the posts above, too. Good luck!
 

gouch

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SW Oregon
As stated there can be a lot of reasons that someone might gate a road. Around here one main reason is that when the Forest Service or BLM wants to log federal land they may need to acquire a right of way to build the road across private land. One stipulation for that right of way may be that the road can only be used for forest management and not be open to the public.

We did have one case where the forest road started from a county road on private property and ran 200 ft. across the private land. The land owner gated the road to keep mushroom hunters off public land that he considered to be his private mushroom patch. The Forest Service threatened him with legal action but before it went to court they had us go out and survey the Right Of Way. Turned out the road was 20 ft. outside the right of way. The land owner was pretty happy about that until the Forest Service threatened to build a new road in the right of way. So he took the gate down.
 

idelkslayer

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Aug 28, 2013
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In many small rural counties things like this can happen because the landowners are friends with those in the county offices. I know of a couple examples of private landowners in southeastern Idaho who have attempted to and sometimes succeeded to blocked public access.

1. Landowner posted no trespassing/private road signs. From the county road there is a quarter mile of BLM road that crosses private land and ends at a BLM gate. The gate has signs addressed to the public such as "No motor vehicles beyond this point". Without this road for access you must enter by foot where the BLM intersects the county road again. Unfortunately it does this at a point that is very steep and adds 1.5 miles to the hike. The worst part about it is that the landowner has not only blocked public access but he continues to ride his four wheeler beyond the gate and onto BLM property that is managed for non-motorized use only. Why does he get away with it? Because he is a big name in a small town. The BLM doesn't have the personnel to effectively patrol and enforce their rules. I sent a map of the road and properties to the BLM along with pictures of tire tread marks in the closed portion of the road leading to and from the private property and up to a mile into the parcel. Nothing ever came of it. I spoke directly to the landowner and asked him about it and he said that the road has always been private and that they built it. I asked why, if that were true, did they build the road through BLM property and then build a gate on the property boundary and place signs addressed to the public on the gate. He just repeated his previous answer that the road was his. I continue to hunt the BLM by using the more difficult access point.

2. Old farmer dies and leaves his large property to his children. A river runs right through the middle of the property. In Idaho, the public has the right to easement and access to all navigable waters below the high water mark. Navigable has a legal definition that includes access for recreation. His children decide to divide the property by using the river as a boundary. They go in to the county assessor and have the property descriptions rewritten to state "From corner at xyz to centerline of river". It is important to note that the previous property description had no language in it mentioning the river at all. They just got it changed to say what they wanted. I have been confronted while fishing the river and told I am trespassing because they own the bottom of the river. I continue to fish there by accessing the river where it intersects public land and staying below the high water mark. They get away with it once again, because they are a big name family that has been in the area for generations and they know everyone in the local government. I haven't pursued any other action at this time, I continue to fish the river by accessing from public land and staying below the high water mark.

In this same county for many years the mayor of a small town used public funds to pay for him and his family/friends to go to Alaska every year to fish. They justified it by holding a public fish fry when they got back.

Basically, large expanses that are very difficult to patrol and landowners with connections in sparsely populated areas lead to this sort of thing happening.
 

wyoelkfan15

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Wyoming
In Wyoming I haven't really come across the issue of county roads being gated. There are quite a few oil and gas roads that spur off of the public county roads so a person has to be knowledgeable when using these. Personally, I've had the experience of public land being land locked WAY more often than seeing a suspicious gate across a road.
 

ElkFever2

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Iowa
Thanks everyone for your replies to my original question. I feel like I have a much clearer picture of what kind of situations I might run in to, and how to handle them if I do.
 

flatcoat

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std7mag

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central pa
I've seen instances where you can be landlocked.
Property in WY can be cheap, but you have to watch for it being land locked.
Kinda a foreign subject to me.
Growing up in MD, where it is illegal to be landlocked.
 
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