Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) A program run through Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks compensates landowners in Montana for opening their land for public hunting access.

Now, a bill that could double the amount of money they get is just a few steps away from reaching the governor’s desk. 

In 2020, there were 7.1 million acres of private land open for public hunting in Montana because of the block grant management program. Current law caps payments to landowners who allow hunting on their property at up to $25,000. Sen. Steve Heinbauch is the sponsor of Senate Bill 58, which would cap payments at $50,000 a year. Rep. Brandon Ler, R-Savage, is carrying the bill in the House. 

“It was last increased in the 2021 session, from $15,000 to $25,000. But after that there was still quite a few landowners that had reached the cap. Some of these landowners are providing hundreds, if not thousands of hunter days that are not being compensated for,” Ler said. 

The program would also help landowners with maintenance and insurance to help make up for the risk of letting people hunt on their land.

Democratic Representative Tom France from Missoula supported the bill. He said if Montana wants to keep its reputation as a recreation mecca, it needs to invest in the programs that make it so. 

“Our block management program in this state that provides public access through voluntary agreements between the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and private landowners is really the envy of the nation. Just like we've seen housing prices go up and rental prices go up, the price of partnerships with landowners has gone up. And this bill will ensure that we continue to have great access in Montana,” France said. 

No opponents spoke against the bill during its hearing March 14th or during the debate in the House. The House advanced the bill on a 99-to-1 vote on Thursday. It now goes to the House Appropriations Committee before coming back to the House for a final vote. The Senate already passed the bill 45-to-3 in January.

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