STEEN ANDREASEN is running out of options to keep his central Montana ranch in his family. The 54-year-old is raising his own two sons along with his two nephews on the 23,000-acre family place located along the Marias River between Great Falls and Havre. Andreasen’s grandfather homesteaded the original part of the ranch in 1915.
It’s been a tough century for the Andreasen family. Extreme weather, untimely deaths, and generational debt have put Steen deep in a hole. His last hope for saving the ranch is Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ conservation easement program, which provides up-front cash in exchange for limits on development, a sustainable livestock grazing plan, and public access for hunting and fishing.
Andreasen applied to the program in 2018, and his project has been approved at ascending levels of authority inside the agency. But now the deal is held up somewhere deep within the bureaucracy of state politics, and Andreasen isn’t the only one waiting. More and more easement deals have been stalled, while hunting-license money earmarked to pay for these land deals keeps accumulating. As the state’s politics took a hard turn to the right, there’s been a concerted effort to kneecap the program that mainly benefits conservative, rural landowners—and hunters and anglers.
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