Governor Signs PAL Act

Bill Aims to Increase Incentives to Open Access to Public Lands

Photo by Hunter Wiseley

MWF thanks Gov. Bullock for signing SB 341, the Public Access Land act, and agrees with the Governor that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs to craft rules that ensure it’s properly used to effectively open access to landlocked public lands with no other options. That’s why we sought an amendment, sponsored by Senator Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls), to ensure that rule-making authority was included in the bill.

“MWF put in a lot of hard work and time to develop this legislation, along with other groups, Senate Leadership, and DFWP, throughout the session,” said Dave Chadwick, MWF executive director. “It shows that Montanans can solve access issues by working together, and now as the governor said it’s time to write a rule for the law that ensures that’s exactly what gets done.”

SB 341, sponsored by Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, allows FWP to enter into agreements with landowners for opening easements to public lands that are otherwise unreachable by the public. Grants will be reviewed by the Private Land/Public Wildlife Council and by the FWP director.

In addition, rules must be written to ensure a review so that any projects proposed are not in conflict with existing easements to those lands. Bullock in his signing statement said he was directing FWP to write a rule that ensures easements can’t be used to eliminate an existing public easement.

“I am excited about the prospect of opening up more land through the mechanism envisioned by SB 341. I have some concerns, however, about whether these same agreements could be used to defeat an existing right of access the public holds,” Bullock said in his signing statement. “For example, I anticipate concerns over whether a landowner could use the existence of an agreement under SB 341 as evidence of permissive use to defeat a historical prescriptive easement. Accordingly, as my administration implements this bill, I am directing the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to adopt rules that will require the Department to determine if the public already has access to a property before finalizing any agreement under SB 341.”

Every program has the possibility of being abused. How those programs are implemented helps to guarantee that the public’s resources and money are wisely used to ensure that we start working on eliminating the 1.5 million acres of landlocked public land. We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Senator Blasdel on SB 341, and his insistence that all groups work together to find common ground.

MWF will be heavily engaged in the rulemaking process, as well as reviewing any proposals that come forward under SB 341.