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West's lament: 'Don't fence me in'

In the Eastern United States "no trespassing" sings, protective fences, and uniformed security guards are commonplace. In the wide-open spaces of the West these manifestations of territoriality have been relatively rare, at least until recently. Not only are the people here closer to the frontier customs of friendliness to strangers, but also much of the land in the West is publicly owned.

However, in the last few years the attitude of landowners in the West has undergone a noticeable change. Increasingly, outdoor enthusiasts are running up against gates, fences, and no-trespassing signs blocking access to public lands.

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The problem has grown to the point where state and federal governments have established a joint-agency access team to resolve the 500 to 800 complaints they receive yearly from would-be recreations who have been turned away by such obstacles. Most of the complaints come from persons heading out into the hinterlands each fall, explains James Callahan of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, a member of the team.

There seem to be two major reasons why strategically placed landowners restrict access. One is a legitimate desire to protect their property and livestock from the onslaught of irresponsible outsiders, especially those armed with rifles. The second is simply to make a little easy money.

Where access rights are unclear, landowners have charged people anywhere from

When these situations are brought to the attention of the government agencies involved, the latter investigate and try to solve them amicably, oftern by purchasing public rights of way.

According to the US Forest Service, 100 such rights of way were established in 1979 in the Rocky Mountain region at a cost of $200,000, and a similar number are anticipated this year for another $270,000. About 40 percent of the costs are for payments to landowners, while the remainder goes to cover legal and administrative expenses.

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