Looking to improve access to the places Montanans love, conservation groups joined Gov. Steve Bullock this week in launching a new state program to pursue easements across private property to popular recreation sites.
Dubbed the MT-PLAN, the effort won bipartisan support during the last legislative session, creating a voluntary contribution account to pursue public easements across private property to public lands.
“Access to quality wildlife habitat is one of the most important challenges facing hunters in Montana,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula. “All too often, land ownership patterns prevent hunters and other recreationists from accessing public lands in Montana.”
The MT-PLAN, written into law through House Bill 597, was widely hailed by landowners and sporting groups for its innovative approach to providing incentives to private landowners and increase public access across property to otherwise inaccessible public lands.
The program will be administered by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation as it works to secure easements to public lands for recreational purposes and complete projects that enhance existing public access sites.
“We’re blessed here in Montana to have access to millions of acres of public lands, but there’s always more we can do to increase that access,” said Bullock, who signed the bill into law. “Access to public lands is essential for present and future generations of Montanans from all walks of life, and it’s essential for our economy.”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was one of the first supporters of the MT-PLAN, donating $25,000 to help launch the program. The plan is further funded by private contributions through DNRC and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Conservation Voters, Montana Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Boone and Crocket Club have also pledged support.
“The Montana Land Access Network will provide a critical funding source to help the state, conservation organizations and private landowners work together to secure even more access,” said Allen. “We’re pleased to make a significant contribution to the network’s fund.”
Donations can be made through the state of Montana website, an authorized conservation group, or through direct donations to DNRC. Donations are tax deductible and payments to landowners are exempt from taxation.