The Montana Sporting Coalition is made up of more than a dozen hunting and angling organizations with a deep commitment to our outdoor traditions. Our diverse interests means at times we disagree on specific issues. But we all recognize the vital role that habitat plays to all wildlife species, and we come together to protect vital areas for our big game, upland birds, waterfowl and for our fisheries. For that reason, the MT Sporting Coalition opposes HB 265.
This bill would require that the state Land Board approve all conservation easements on private land under the Habitat Montana program. This program is one of our state’s biggest conservation success stories. For over 30 years it has funded conservation easements with willing landowners, targeted fee title purchases of important winter range and other quality wildlife habitat.
Habitat Montana uses a small portion of hunting license fees, and it’s used to leverage federal and non-governmental dollars to fund habitat projects. It has an incredible track record of success. Last year the state Land Board unnecessarily delayed the Horse Creek Complex conservation easement near Wibaux. This quality, 15,000-acre project had been in the works for two years and went through an extensive review with Montana FWP staff. It was unanimously approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. But the Land Board voted to indefinitely delay the project.
Finally, the governor approved the project after determining that conservation easements don’t require Land Board approval under state law. That was challenged by the Attorney General’s office, and the case was decided by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that easements, in fact, don’t require Land Board approval under the original intent of the Legislature when it created the Habitat Montana program.
MWF thanks our conservation partners for signing onto this letter to the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee against HB 265. We also thank the Stenson family, who put an easement on their land last year that guarantees permanent public hunting access and conserves the land, for making the drive to Helena and testifying.