Livestock on National Forest System Lands

Release Date: May 13, 2022

Contact(s): Willie Sykes

EUREKA, Mont. May 13, 2022Historically, the Forest Service has authorized grazing on National Forest System (NFS) lands to support the American rancher, and the livestock industry. Here on the Kootenai National Forest, grazing has occurred since the mid-1920s when Octave Fortine received the first cattle grazing permit in Trego, MT.

Historically, the Kootenai National Forest was home to 42 grazing allotments, many of which have since become vacant. The Kootenai now holds 13 active grazing allotments across three districts, with the Rexford-Fortine District having the largest share of them. Those allotments are scattered throughout the district in Pinkham, Fortine, Grave Creek, West Kootenai, Camp 32 and Sunday Creek areas. On the Libby Ranger District they are located in the Fairview and Five Mile Creek areas. And the Cabinet Ranger District’s sole allotment is near Fatman Mountain.

Grazing NFS land is authorized to ranchers in the area who have been permitted to graze on a designated FS allotment. If you do not have a grazing permit with the Forest Service, you are not allowed to graze Forest Service lands and doing so is considered unauthorized use. The Forest regulates permits, herd sizes, allotments, and season of use for all permittees. Across the Forest there are roughly 1,300 cow calf pairs permitted to graze each year from Mid-May to September 30th each year.

This means if you are visiting National Forest or live near NFS lands, you are likely to cross paths with cattle. Be advised that the Forest Service operates under the Montana Open Range Law which states that cattle may roam freely. The Open Range practice began long before statehood, when ranchers would graze mass rangelands with their livestock. As the population of the state grew, and more crops were grown, it was required that folks fence out areas they did not want free roaming livestock or wildlife to enter. Several Montana Court Decisions have upheld the Montana Open Range Law over the years.

To ensure you are in compliance with the Law, and if you wish to keep cattle off of your property, you must have a legal fence. A Legal fence is a well-constructed fence, not less than 44 inches or more than 48 inches in height in the state of Montana. For other legal fences and more information visit Montana code § 81-4-101.

Open range includes secondary roads and highways that pass through but does not include interstate or primary state highways. Drive with caution on Forest Service roads to avoid a collision with livestock. Hitting livestock with a vehicle means you are liable to compensate the animal’s owner, and damages to your vehicle are your responsibility.

The Rexford-Fortine Ranger District has informational pamphlets concerning open range if you wish to learn more. Call 406-296-2536 or stop by if you have additional questions.






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