Bonfires and parties at Hyalite

Hyalite is an extremely popular destination for recreationalists in Bozeman, including MSU students. However, misuse of Hyalite can get you in trouble with the law, especially when it comes to holding bonfires.

Each year, community volunteers pick their way through heavily used areas of Hyalite, cleaning up the debris from parties — broken bottles, garbage, ammunition casings and thousands of nails left over from burnt bonfire pallets.

Not only is Hyalite on U.S. Forest Service land but it is also the primary source of water for the city of Bozeman. In addition to trashing a beautiful public recreation spot, a wildfire sparked by careless burning could mean disaster for the city.

According to special Forest Service orders, it is illegal to build, maintain, attend or use a camp fire that is not completely contained in a permanent metal fire ring at an established campsite or picnic area in the Hyalite drainage. This rule is in effect within a half-mile of Hyalite Road, South Fork Hyalite Road and East Fork Hyalite Road. That means no fires on roads, in parking lots or at trailheads. 

Federal regulations prohibit many activities that can cause fires, such as failing to clear the area around a fire of flammable material, carelessly handling ignited material, leaving a fire without completely extinguishing it and, importantly, starting and failing to control a fire that damages the forest. Violations of the rules at Hyalite can mean a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual and up to $10,000 for an organization — and/or six months in prison. On other federal lands, the fine can be up to $500 plus potential jail time.

 A few other reminders about Hyalite: 

There are legal risks for bonfires on non-federal lands too. Montana law prohibits fires with a diameter larger than 4 feet without a burn permit — and that’s when there are no burning restrictions in place during fire season. Restrictions can be put in place by county governments or forest managers. An unpermitted burn is a misdemeanor crime.

And what happens if a fire you set gets out of control and causes damage? State law says you’re responsible for the cost of fighting that fire, and you can be held liable for damage it causes to any property, which could mean civil lawsuits filed against you by property owners in addition to any criminal charges.  

MSU’s student conduct code 

In addition to legal charges, you may also face sanctions under MSU’s Code of Student Conduct. This code applies to students so long as they are enrolled. It applies on university holidays and during the summers between enrolled semesters, and it applies to students on campus and off.

Students who violate city, state or federal laws may not only face prosecution for those crimes but also may face university sanctions under the code.

Students should be aware that the student conduct process is quite different than criminal and civil court proceedings. Proceedings are fair, but they do not include the same protections of due process afforded by courts.

Violations can include: 

  • Knowingly providing false information to any university official or faculty member.
  • Disrupting a person from exercising their responsibilities as a student, faculty or staff member.
  • Failing to comply with reasonable directives from university officials or law enforcement officers. That includes identifying yourself to them when asked.
  • Not reporting a felony arrest within 72 hours.

Sanctions can include limitations in the residence halls, losses of privileges around campus, warnings, probation, suspension and expulsion. 

Students should become familiar with the code of conduct so they understand the standards expected of MSU students and the rights they have under the system.