New program could improve access to public lands
BY FREDDY MONARES - December 19, 2017 - Original published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation donated $25,000 to help launch a program that would allow the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to buy public access easements for recreational purposes like hunting and fishing.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock announced the Montana Public Land Access Network on Monday along with the donation. Bullock signed Bloomfield Republican Rep. Alan Doane’s House Bill 597 in May, which set up the program.
The program will be funded by private donations through the DNRC and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. With those donations, the DNRC would offer grant funding to buy public access easements or enhancements across private, or difficult to access, land for the public. The DNRC will work with landowners to negotiate the terms of the access easement or enhancement project.
The program is DNRC’s first public access grant initiative to help increase public access to both state trust land and federally managed public land.
Elk Foundation President David Allen said in a news release that access to quality wildlife habitat is one of the most important challenges facing hunters in Montana. Land ownership patterns prevent hunters and other recreationists from accessing public land in the state, he said.
“The Montana Land Access Network will provide a critical funding source to help the state, conservation organizations and private landowners work together to secure even more access,” Allen said.
The program will be spearheaded by a public access specialist, a position created by Bullock earlier this year. The specialist is charged with leading public access acquisitions to state and federal lands, and collaborating with private landowners, local governments and federal agencies.
Doane also issued a statement, saying, “This approach encourages unity between landowners and sportsmen, rather than further division.”
Montana is blessed to have access to millions of acres of public lands, Bullock said in a release, but there’s always more we can do to increase that access. He said it’s essential for our economy and for present and future generations of Montanans from all walks of life.
Several organizations have also pledged their support to lay the foundation of the program, including Montana Conservation Voters, Montana Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, among others.
Donations can be made through the state of Montana website and through direct donations to DNRC. Authorized wildlife conservation and combination licensed vendors are also eligible to accept donations.
All donations are tax deductible, and payments to landowners are exempt from taxation.