Oct. 15, 2018
Montana State Land Board
1539 Eleventh Ave.
Helena, MT 59601
Dear Montana Land Board members,
The Montana Sporting Coalition is comprised of a dozen hunting and angling organizations with tens of thousands of members in Montana. We were formed in 2015 over concerns about the Habitat Montana program. This program is now more than three decades old, and it has a strong track record of conserving wildlife habitat and providing public recreational access through targeted land purchases and conservation easements with willing private landowners. Habitat Montana is one of our state’s most successful conservation programs. It has conserved more than 400,000 acres and is a large part of why hunters in Montana enjoy the longest big game seasons in the West.
In 2015, the Montana Legislature put restrictions on Habitat Montana that barred land purchases, making it clear that it wanted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to focus on private land conservation easements. These easements keep land in private ownership, often times making it easier for parents to pass ranches and farms down to the next generation. Easements help preserve the agricultural way-of-life, protect the land from development, and help provide public recreational access to public and private lands, while maintaining landowner control. Simply put, Habitat Montana is a prime example of the decades-long partnership between hunters and landowners that has helped build the abundance of wildlife in the state and increase opportunities for fishing, hunting and other recreation.
The funding from Habitat Montana for conservation easements is a solid way of preserving our agricultural heritage. It allows landowners to plan for their economic future, expand their farming and/or ranching operations, and maintain quality wildlife habitat on their properties. Landowners spend years putting these agreements together. They usually start with serious conversations within the family before they approach FWP or another agency and/or land conservation organization. These deals take tremendous effort to put together, and often a landowner has invested thousands of dollars in attorney’s and accountant fees, appraisal costs, document preparation and other work to plan a project.
While the Horse Creek Complex Conservation Easement has been completed, the disagreement over the necessity of Land Board approval for easements has put a halt to projects pending an Attorney General’s opinion. Currently, FWP has 12 pending easement projects totaling 86,000 acres, according to data provided by the agency. Several landowners have land exchanges and purchases pending approval of these easement projects. It is unfair to these landowners, who have typically entered the process with FWP years earlier, to hold up projects that benefit their
farms, ranches and families. It’s also unfair to the hunters and anglers who pay for this program that provides so much benefit to wildlife, agriculture and local economies.
The unfortunate controversies being played out around conservation easements do not simply impact one agency or elected officials. They impact Montanans who are trying to maintain traditional agricultural operations and ensure hunters, anglers, hikers and other recreationists always have a place to experience this special place like past generations have.
Montana Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Montana Bowhunters Association
The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Mule Deer Foundation
Montana Wild Sheep Foundation
Montana Sportsman’s Alliance