Senator urges USDA to reopen hunter access to Fort Keogh

by Brett French

Montana Sen. Jon Tester has sent a letter to a U.S. Department of Agriculture official requesting the agency reopen land it owns outside Miles City to hunters.

Citing recent fires and low deer populations, this fall Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory shut off access to more than 55,400 acres it has annually enrolled in the state Block Management Program. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, which administers the program, said on average the fort hosted 1,300 hunter days a year.

“Fort Keogh is one of the few large, publicly accessible blocks of land available to sportsmen and women in the Miles City area,” Tester wrote to Chavonda Jacobs-Young, administrator of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. “I share the concerns of local hunters who have contacted my office about their inability to hunt at the station and urge ARS to reopen the facility to the fullest extent possible.”

Although recognizing the USDA’s reasons for closing off access, Tester said he was “troubled that the decision to close Fort Keogh to hunters is inconsistent with access at the property in previous drought years and with most other publicly-accessible lands currently facing similar drought conditions across the state.”

He went on to note the issue is “particularly concerning given the ongoing issues at Fort Keogh with public access for fishermen, which I am still working to resolve.” The senator was referring to the 2013 closure of a fishing access site on the USDA property following vandalism. A local contingent of hunters and anglers has been working to reopen the site along the Yellowstone River, but keeps running into roadblocks.

In closing, Tester requested that the USDA “prioritize clear and consistent communication with impacted hunters and other stakeholders” and work to reopen the facility.

The fort is located just outside Miles City along the Tongue and Yellowstone rivers.