Members of the Crow Tribe plan to close Sage Creek Road across their property beginning Sept. 8, citing years of use and abuse of the route without upkeep in addition to damage to historical sites in the area east of Bridger.
“We’ve been complaining to the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) for years, since we closed the Gap, now we’re closing the route to the ice caves,” said Terry Plain Bull.
Plain Bull’s family closed the Pryor Gap Road to all but tribal members in 2002 citing similar concerns.
“That place looks pristine now, like it did during the buffalo days,” said Elias Goes Ahead, a Crow tribal historian and one of several tribal landowners along Sage Creek Road. “Before that, the BIA was trampling on the allottee lands, grazing cattle, logging and trampling historical sites there. Especially the Little People Cave, when the road closed down, the ecology wasn’t disturbed at all.”
Allottees are individuals who own undivided interest in reservation land given to them by the federal government.
Calls and emails to the Crow Tribe for comment were not returned Friday afternoon. BIA superintendent Vianna Stewart was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.
The Sage Creek Road, which intersects with the Pryor Gap Road and is also sometimes referred to as the Pryor Mountain Road, is a well-traveled route that accesses the west side of the Pryor Mountains, including a Forest Service campground along the base of the range, the Big Ice Cave and Dryhead Overlook. The forest recently opened an alternative Powerline Road that avoids the tribal lands, but the route has not yet been improved, meaning it’s accessible to four-wheel-drive vehicles only. Five years ago, the agency rebuilt the Crooked Creek Road that rises between the west and east portions of the Pryor Mountains, an alternate route into the region that can accommodate passenger cars.
Goes Ahead and Plain Bull recite a number of transgressions they say have taken place along Sage Creek Road, including: oil and gas lines that crossed allottees’ property without compensation, diversion of Sage Creek for irrigation without compensation or permission to cross allottees’ land, and the continuing degradation of the road, partly by use of logging trucks that have harvested trees on tribal land.
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“They’re selling off our logs, and some of us don’t even have homes,” Plain Bull said. “Then they condemn houses in Crow Agency because they aren’t built right.”
Although the tribal members have complained to the BIA and tribal government, they said no action has been taken, so the road closure seemed like a good way to get attention. Plain Bull said the tribal members behind the road closure would make a list of their concerns available to the public when they block the route.
“Tribal government makes decisions without taking it to the people,” Goes Ahead said. “So far, the Plain Bulls haven’t gotten anywhere with negotiations.”
The area contains several sites of importance to the tribe, Goes Ahead said.
“Sage Creek has a lot of history: little people, hunting sites and caves with petroglyphs,” he said.
And dating back to the creation of the reservation, there have been conflicts over the use of the land for timber and grazing as well as disputes between tribal and nontribal members.
“This is one way to get us media attention,” Goes Ahead said. “They leave us no choice.”