“Cows not Condos” is a popular bumper sticker seen across Montana on everything from flatbed ranch trucks in Miles City to grocery getters in Missoula. The slogan captures one of the few sentiments all Montanans agree on: we value our ranchlands over our subdivisions.
Senate Bill 115 seems to forget that by creating unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and trampling all over private property rights.
Introduced by Sen. Keith Regier (R-Kalispell), SB 115 sends the message that Montana ranchers cannot be trusted to make good decisions with their land, specifically when it comes to conservation easements.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a trusted conservation organization or government agency: in this case, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). Designed to protect working lands and restrict development, it’s a win-win solution for landowners looking to keep their ranches in the family and to ensure that they remain intact, as they are now.
Habitat Montana conservation easements voluntarily preserve the quality, culture and integrity of Montana’s rural landscapes, and are funded almost entirely by sportsmen's dollars (hunting licenses). And hunters are happy to foot the bill for these since Montana’s ranches are the backbone of our thriving wildlife heritage. Without these large tracts of unbroken private lands, our world-class elk, deer and antelope herds wouldn't be sustained, and hunters know this.
These easements should — and already do — have to go through a lengthy approval process; but we don’t need even more government oversight here. By requiring additional and onerous conservation easement approval from the Montana Land Board, SB 115 would take away — or at least unnecessarily complicate to the point of stymieing — a private property owner’s right to make decisions about how their land is used.
It's surprising that a lawmaker from Montana’s conservative party — who fervently advocates for less government — would propose this call for government overreach, unnecessarily complicating conservation easements and adding an unpredictable layer of red tape and bureaucracy to a landowner's right to do what they please with their own land.
It's their land. Let them decide if it's best suited for cows or condos. We trust Montana's landowners to make the call.
Thomas Baumeister of Helena and Corey Ellis of Missoula are board members of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.