The Pacific Legal Foundation has announced that the Supreme Court will hear its case involving how the U.S. Forest Service hit two Montana landowners with a bait-and-switch scheme in which it obtained an easement across their properties for limited use, and then turned that into a public road.
The foundation explained that case that has been going on for several years already: “Wil Wilkins and Jane Stanton are neighbors, living on adjoining properties next to the Bitterroot National Forest in Western Montana. Their properties share a private road, for which the previous owners granted a limited-use easement to the Forest Service in 1962. Under the terms of the original easement, the use of the road was to be limited to Forest Service employees and approved permit holders, like loggers and ranchers, providing access for necessary maintenance of the surrounding forest lands. Access to the road was never intended to extend to the general public.”
However, the foundation said the Forest Service “illegally change the terms” of the agreement.
In fact, on what was agreed to be “a limited-use easement,” the Forest Service posted signs granted the public access, and the agency’s actions have now resulted in “serious traffic hazards, road damage, fire threats, noise, trespassing, illegal hunting, speeding, and other intrusive and dangerous activities.”
“The government should not be able to manipulate procedural rules to prevent landowners from getting their day in court to protect their property rights,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Jeffrey McCoy. “The deck is already stacked when individuals challenge the government. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion, if it is allowed to stand, makes it even more difficult for property owners to vindicate their rights. We are glad that the Supreme Court will review that decision, and we hope the Court will allow our clients to have their day in court.”
Wilkins and Stanton had accepted the limited-use easement under the terms of the original 1962 agreement forged by the previous owners. But they now contend they are essentially the victims of a “bait and switch” scheme, which violates their property rights by ignoring the terms of the original easement, the foundation explained.
The lawyers explained the landowners maintain that the Forest Service does not have the authority to extend public access to their personal property; moreover, they point out another access road a few miles north of their properties that is better maintained and provides adequate forest access for recreational users.
WND reported when the fight erupted several years ago that the government simply is trying to take more than it paid for in the original limited easement.
The foundation at the time warned that the tactics would backfire on the government, explaining, “Not only does this approach violate private property rights, it is counterproductive to the goal of increasing access to public lands. Bad faith tactics will result in fewer property owners willing to negotiate with the federal government to allow access across their property. It also increases animosity between private property owners and the public.”
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