It takes the heart and courage of a “mountain man” to protect his land from the government


Facing the United States government in court is not for the faint of heart – it takes courage, courage, and a deep belief in the cause you are fighting for.

When the government violated the terms of an agreement it made with landowners in Montana, one man refused to accept the abuse.

A mountain man from Montana

No matter how much time passes, Wil Wilkins is still mesmerized by his view of the majestic Rocky Mountains – the view that brought him to Montana all those years ago.

“This is the perfect place for me,” he said, his voice filled with reverent enthusiasm.

“I look through and I see the ridges of the mountains, and then above it all is a snow-capped granite mountain peak. And if it doesn’t give people the creeps to hear about it, I’m sorry, but this is just my ideal place to live.

Before settling in Montana, Wil spent nearly four years on horseback working on different ranches. But those Montana mountains called to him like a siren’s song, and he finally bought a property on the edge of the Bitterroot National Forest.

‘I guess,’ he said, ‘I’m just a mountaineer at heart. I was born in Appalachia, in the hills of West Virginia. It’s in my blood.

A mountaineer indeed. As Wil tells you about his life, your mind immediately conjures up images of a rugged protagonist in a Louis L’Amour novel.

Wil’s passions are reminiscent of bygone eras. A master blacksmith, he was once asked to travel to Scotland to help rebuild a trebuchet, a catapult used in medieval times.

Besides being a stonemason, Wil also restores old-fashioned log cabins using only his ax and strength.

As his mother once said, Wil, it seems, was born in the wrong time.

The 72-year-old embodies a love of the land and a commitment to community that is rare in the modern digital world.

Unfortunately, the government’s disregard for private property threatened his way of life, marring his quiet life with constant turmoil and chaos.

But a true mountaineer protects his land, and Wil’s fight to protect his property takes him from the mountains to the Supreme Court.

bait and switch

When Wil and his neighbors purchased their property, they did so knowing that the US Forest Service and specific permit holders (like loggers and ranchers) had the right to cross their property to access the forest. The government’s right to enter their property is known as an “easement”.

The terms were agreed to decades ago, and with such limited activity, the special allowance was not a major concern for Wil.

In 2006, Wil was surprised to see that the Forest Service had posted a sign along this road, indicating that the logging road was now open to the public to access the state forest.

While another public road leading into the forest exists a few miles to the north, the road that crosses Wil’s property (known as Robbins Gulch Road) has resulted in extensive use which has become a major annoyance for property owners. .

Road damage, fire threats, verbal abuse and illegal hunting are just a few of the ways the road has disrupted the peace of the once quiet property.

As Wil explained:

“It’s my life. And then when someone comes speeding past my store at 30 or 40 miles an hour, it disrupts my life. It disrupts everyone’s life on that road. I mean, I think I even saw skid marks over 127 feet.

But speeding is not the only cause for concern.

Wil had several items stolen from his porch. Worse, her beloved cat was shot by hunters who had taken the road to enter her property. Fortunately, her cat survived. His neighbor’s pets, however, weren’t so lucky.

“There was another person who came down the road, ran off the road onto the grass of my neighbor’s house. He intentionally sped up, knocked down two of his dogs, then ran away. One of them was killed, the other was crippled for the rest of his life.

Wil also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes this situation even more difficult for him to bear.

The harm to his well-being would be bad enough, but what’s worse is Wil’s feeling of betrayal. All of this is happening because the government violated the terms of its contract.

The easement agreement that had been in place since the 1960s was clear and concise as to who could use the road. This sudden change, which was made without consulting Wil first, felt like a bait and switch.

He wanted answers. What he got was a runaround.

Initially he was told that it wasn’t going to be a big deal and that the Forest Service would even put up a sign telling the public not to enter.

It never happened and the years passed.

Another rep later told him the road was going to be decommissioned and there was nothing to worry about. When the Forest Service didn’t close the road and instead opened it to the public, Wil voiced his concerns to another representative who, as Wil explains, was dismissive.

When it became clear that Wil wasn’t going to back down, the rep said mockingly, “What are you going to do, sue us?”

If only he knew then that those words would result in a Supreme Court case.

fight in court

Wil, along with his neighbor, filed what is called a “quiet title claim” against the federal government.

The Quiet Title Act gives owners the right to sue the government for changing the terms of an agreement and claiming more title to the property than originally agreed.

But there was a catch.

The law requires landowners to file lawsuits no more than 12 years after they “knew or should have known of the United States’ claim.”

While Wil and his neighbor believe they brought the case within the statute of limitations, the court refused to hear their case and neither ever had a chance to show the court how the forest service changed the terms of the easement agreement.

The Ninth Circuit dismissed their lawsuit last year, finding the statute of limitations to be “jurisdictional,” meaning a court cannot consider the merits of the case if the time limit appears to have expired.

Wil wasn’t ready to give up his property so soon. And, luckily, he was represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation.

PLF disagrees with the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

The Quiet Title Act statute of limitations is nothing more than a claims-handling rule — a rule intended to ensure that a court filing is made in a timely manner.

The Supreme Court has previously said that this rule is “important and mandatory,” but that it should not automatically bar a court from reviewing the facts of a case.

The Supreme Court decided to hear the case to answer this question: does the Quiet Title Act statute of limitations prevent review of Wil and Jane’s lawsuit, or is it a rule? procedure to which there may be exceptions?

A man from the community

The disruption of his peace and the difficult legal battle took an emotional toll on Wil.

Granted, Wil is no caricature of an angry old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. He loves his community and has been active in it for years.

Over time, he helped make the community more environmentally conscious, helped build a new pavilion at the local library, and helped restore the historic and badly damaged local school bell.

He does not try to restrict his community’s access to the forest. But it’s about its ownership and the sanctity of contracts, which none of the forest services paid much attention to in this case.

At one point he thought about walking away, but he was determined.

“No, I’m not going to let them chase me out of here. I love this place.”

He continued:

“If I sold this place for $1 million, I couldn’t replace it. I couldn’t have everything I have here, which is serenity, the river right in front of me, 150 steps away. I can fish, wade in the river. I can jump in the river and go swimming.

I’ve been all over the Northwest, from the Pacific Ocean to Alaska, to northern California, to Oregon, to Washington, I’ve traveled all over the country. And there’s no other place I can think of that I would want to move to right now.

PLF will fight to make sure he doesn’t have to.

The outcome of this case will have far-reaching implications for property owners across the country.

“If we do this, it would be so good not only for me, because I’m just going to disappear, but it will help other people to give them the strength, the encouragement so that they can stand up for their rights.”

Wil is convinced that it will not be a question of if he wins the case, but when.

“When we win this case, it will set a precedent for so many other people who are currently being abused. I hope so much that we win this, I have to have faith. We earn it on the basis, because we are right and not on the legal verbiage, but the fact that we are right is right there in plain text.

The government cannot unilaterally change the terms of a public access agreement with private owners to take more of their property than has been agreed.

“The bottom line is that I am asking the United States government to fulfill its obligations that it announced in the agreement. I am so grateful to the Pacific Legal Foundation for helping me do this.


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