Montana’s public lands are our most precious resource — they are a way of life. According to a report by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Montana has 3.08 million acres of landlocked public lands; 1.52 million acres of federal land and 1.56 acres of state land. I have developed a comprehensive plan to increase access to these public lands as Attorney General. With this plan, Montanans will have increased access to enjoy the outdoors, whether you hike, bike, camp, hunt, or fish.
This comprehensive 7-point Montana Access to Public Lands Plan (“MAPL”) Plan will increase access to landlocked public lands in Montana. Landlocked public lands are public lands that are surrounded by private land with no trail or road access to the public lands.
Unlocking these areas will also help preserve our rural towns. The towns in rural Montana located near these landlocked areas will have increased opportunity for revenue, benefitting small-town economies. I have already worked to establish various programs that increase access to public lands. As Attorney General, I am committed to solving the problem of our landlocked public lands.
The MAPL Plan includes the following steps:
#1 — Establish an Access our Public Lands Task Force
- All Montanans have a stake in our public lands and accessing the 3.08 million landlocked acres. They provide funding to our public schools as well as numerous recreational and economic opportunities for Montanans.
- Establishing a task force with various stakeholders, including private landowners, livestock groups, conservation groups, land trusts, hunting and fishing advocates, private property rights organizations, and other stakeholders, is essential to develop a plan of access to our public lands that all agree upon. This is essential to have the plan successfully developed and implemented.
#2 — Utilize Detailed GPS Data to Develop a Corner Crossing Law that Allows Access to Landlocked Public Lands
- Corner Crossing laws allow individuals to access landlocked public lands by crossing from one corner of public land to the other parcel of public land, providing access to the checkerboard of landlocked public lands.
- Previous attempts at Corner Crossing laws have been unsuccessful, partly because private property owners were concerned about trespassing and violations of their private property rights.
- A Corner Crossing law can be developed utilizing the already-existing, detailed GPS information about our landlocked public lands. The law will allow Corner Crossing at clearly marked boundaries/corners of the public land. These markings will provide clear guidance to where individuals can cross. This will prevent trespassing on private land by individuals using Corner Crossing to access public lands.
- Involving all stakeholders, including private property advocates, in formulating this law will increase the chance of successful passage in the legislature.
#3 — Lead a National Attorneys General Push for Full Funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund of 1965 (“LWCF”) was enacted to preserve, develop, and ensure access to our outdoor resources. One of the goals was to increase the “health and vitality” of citizens by facilitating participation in recreation.
- $900 million is deposited into the federal LWCF annually but some of the money has continually been diverted and not applied toward conservation and recreation priorities. If the LWCF was fully funded with all funding appropriately used, it would allow additional access to our outdoors through purchase of land, easements, establishment of fishing sites, and other investments.
- Attorneys General are uniquely positioned to fight for full funding and appropriate use because they are the chief legal officer for their state. Leading a collaborative national effort to push for full funding and appropriate use will put pressure on federal authorities to stop raiding of the LWCF account and bring more of the funding to Montana.
#4 — Establish an Online Portal with Information Regarding all Public Lands Access Programs
- Montana has numerous under-utilized public lands access programs to fit the needs of different landowners who want to provide public access. Establishing one convenient online site with information and links to all these programs will improve the ability of Montanans to learn about and utilize these programs.
- The programs Montana has includes the following:
- Unlocking Public Lands, established in 2015 with my help. This provides an annual tax credit of $750 to $3,000 to private landowners who allow access over their property to reach landlocked public lands.
- Montana Public Lands Access Network, established in 2017 with my assistance, allows donations to the state the can be utilized to obtain easements over private land to access landlocked public lands. It can also be used for small projects, such as installing cattle crossings, to access the landlocked public lands.
- The Public Access to Lands Act, established in 2019 with my support, allows Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to negotiate agreements with private landowners to allow access to landlocked public lands.
- Block Management Areas provide free hunting opportunities on private land with landowners voluntarily offering access under various guidelines. A small portion of hunting license sales are dedicated to this program to compensate landowners for access and any accidental damage to their property.
#5 — Establish Online Portal for Complaints of Obstruction of Public Land Access
- Providing an online portal in concert with the program portal described above, including telephone access, for citizens to report complaints of obstruction of access to public land will help identify and remedy these violations.
- Working with other state agencies to fully address these violations will ensure citizens are able to access their public lands.
#6 — Provide Advisory Opinion when Requested to Clarify State Law Related to Public Land Access
- Increasingly Montanans seeking to hunt, fish or otherwise recreate on Montana’s public lands face obstructions to public land access. This occurs through fencing or gating of traditional access points or through other actions that obstruct public land access.
- The Attorney General is uniquely situated to clarify conflicts or uncertainty in Montana law through requested Advisory Opinions that then carry the force of law.
- By utilizing this power in these situations, the Attorney General will provide clarity and certainty regarding what is permitted regarding situations that block access to our public lands.
#7 — Support Funding for Habitat Montana
- Habitat Montana is a state program that utilizes a portion of proceeds of hunting license sales to purchase land or conservation easements.
- Having the Attorney General advocate for adequate funding for this program will help ensure adequate funding is placed in the program.
Our public lands are a treasure. Unlocking our landlocked areas is a priority I will champion as Attorney General.