The history of America’s West is marred by disputes over land ownership—if not all-out wars—and so too will be its future. During the COVID-19 pandemic, well-off residents from California, Washington, and Texas sought their own slice of the mountains and moved to Montana in droves. For every 100 people that left the state in 2020, 372 moved in. As a result, many mountain town locals have felt a crowding and degradation of their public lands and waters.

In Montana, the state stream access law remains a bright spot. But public water hunters and anglers have found themselves increasingly at an impasse with the new, fast-growing population of riverfront landowners, thanks to the mass-wealth migration that’s priced many multi-generation Westerners out of their hometowns. Cookie-cutter housing developments full of large, sleek abodes sprawl across valley floors in places like Gallatin County, eating up what was traditionally agricultural land nestled between vast mountain ranges. In March 2023, the median cost of a single-family home in Montana’s wealthiest county was almost $700,000. (Thirteen months before that, it was $1.1 million.)