Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

Forced Access Bill Killed; Legislative Session Half Over

      Thanks to a strong and diverse coalition of landowners, land trusts, agricultural organizations, local government and outdoor recreation groups, the House Fish, Wildlife & Parks Committee voted 13-5 on Feb. 23 to table HB 352. The actual vote would have been 14-4 but one committee’s proxy vote was incorrectly voted.

     HB 352 would have required that any publicly funded conservation easement program – state, local or federal – provide recreational access that was “reasonable and possible” for “enjoyment” of the public. The bill sought to allow unfettered public access to private land, and would have undermined agricultural conservation and county open land programs.

     Defeat of HB 352 shows the strength of the land trust community, and the strength of the partnerships land trusts have with landowners, farm and ranch organizations, and outdoor recreation groups. MALT extends a heartfelt Thank You to everyone who participated in the effort to defeat to HB 352. 

     The first half of the 2021 Montana Legislative Session wraps up on March 3. All committee actions for the first half of the session ended on Feb. 27. HB 352 is not the only Montana legislative bill or bill draft MALT and the land trust advocacy team is working on. HB 471 would deny nonprofit organizations the ability to purchase 161 acres or more of private land. The bill draft is aimed at the American Prairie Reserve but would also impact many MALT member organizations. The bill was not advanced at the legislative transmittal break, but is expected to surface during the second half of the legislative session.

     Other potentially troublesome bill drafts – one that would have required county commission and gubernatorial approval of LWCF projects in Montana – look doubtful to advance to bill status. 

     MALT and attorney Andy Dana found themselves actively engaged with bill sponsors, other county officials, and a local bill drafter on a handful of proposed subdivision, zoning and growth policy bills or bill drafts. Three of the bill drafts sought to repeal the statement of intent section of the Montana open land statute (76-6-102), and MALT strongly opposed that repeal. Bill drafts that contained the repeal were not advanced, but it is an issue MALT will keep its eye on.

     MALT has also worked on a handful of other bills, including bills that would impact sage grouse conservation program funding and operations.  

     MALT extends a thank you to Mark Aagenes (TNC), Dick Dolan (TPL), and key members of the land trust advocacy team including Jon Sonju, Shane Scanlon and Darryl James. The advocacy team is looking forward to more successes during the second half of the legislative session.