The Montana Legislature easily passed a bill Tuesday creating a new program aimed at securing access to public land.
Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, brought Senate Bill 341, called the Public Access to Lands Act, or “PAL.” The bill allows Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to negotiate agreements with private landowners for the public to access otherwise inaccessible public lands. With a total annual spending authority of $500,000, a maximum of $15,000 could be spent per agreement.
Blasdel touted the bill as providing a flexibility for landowners who are interested in providing public access but do not find existing access programs fitting their needs.
The state currently offers several access programs, including easements, block management, tax credits through Unlocking Public Land and an access donation program through Montana Public Lands Access Network. The PAL Act differs from those programs in that landowners and the department can tailor individual agreements to fit the needs of landowners, Blasdel said.
SB 341 has seen support from livestock, land trust and conservation groups and has passed through the Legislature by wide margins.
The only significant criticism of the bill has come from access advocate Kathryn QannaYahu, founder of the organization Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat, with concerns that there is no requirement for landowners to research for existing legal public access, such as historic prescriptive easements or railroad grant deeds.
On Tuesday, SB 341 passed on a vote of 84-12.