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Montana Squeezes Private Property Owners For Control

Government Owned Property in Montana Continues To Expand

private property
Photo by Tim Ravndal

MFWP Continues To Squeeze Private Property Owners
For Control of Privately Held Lands

By Tim Ravndal

During every legislative session in Montana, representatives have taken on the task of providing a fiscal foundation for Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks.  Funding the department has been a controversial legislative action without an end in sight.

Legislative Fish & Game Committee Members hear many pieces of legislation brought forward by the Department as well as proposals brought forward by non-governmental organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

National organizations such as the “Nature Conservancy”, “National Wildlife Federation” and “Trout Unlimited” are just a few that “buy” a full-time seat at the decision-making table.

private property
Garitty Mountain Wildlife Management Area

Local government officials are often unaware of actions moving forward until the final decisions are ready for signature. Many times, organizations with their prospective agendas are given deference due to selective information they provide for review.

Management of wildlife in Montana is a task that requires a balance between recognizing the rights of the public vis a vis wildlife and private property rights. The Montana legislature rests many of its decisions with the MFWP Commission. Those decisions are made by the five MFWP Commission members appointed by the Governor of Montana.

When one “follows the money,” one gets even deeper into the workings of MFWP. United States Fish & Wildlife Service is a Federal department that provides a substantial amount of funding to the MFWP.

MFWP is in charge of wildlife management in Anaconda, Montana. Anaconda is home to the iconic smokestack that overshadows the community and now signifies the end of the copper industry in this area.

The Anaconda Company owned many acres of land across Montana and used the natural resources to supply the copper smelting industry. In 1972, Montana politicians got together in Helena and re-wrote the Montana Constitution. Due to that effort, environmentalism took the lead.

At that point, the Anaconda smelter and Butte mines came to a crossroads for their business survival. With the continuing advancement of environmental control, the smelter was shut down.

Since the closure of the smelter, the environmental “cash cow” was given steroids and the race was on. In the late 1990s, a $1.2 million environmental lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield was awarded due to environmental damage. This triggered the designation of the Federal superfund cleanup, bringing additional funding.

Montana officials created the Montana Resource Damage Program, MRDP, to help spend that money on resource damage mitigation. The MRDP teamed up with MFWP and systematically began taking on resource management for the future.

In their quest for control, MFWP created the Garitty Mountain Wildlife Management Area. This creation was considered to be “saving the watershed from depredation caused by the smelter.”

Most of the land in the watershed previously owned by Anaconda Company and later the Atlantic Richfield Company was transferred to YT Timber, a subsidiary of Ry Timber, located in Townsend, Montana. Threats of lawsuits against timber harvesting by environmental groups like Anaconda Sportsman Club triggered a combined assault against the logging.

The owner of Ry Timber determined the economic future of those lands was not in the best interest of the company, based on the legal attacks being mounted. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation stepped into the mix with offers of good faith land management for the community.

The land management was eventually transferred to MFWP for a term reaching perpetuity. A focus on wildlife management was justified by an official designation.

Other private property in the area was not included in the original designation and has since become the target of the green “decoy” groups. Some of which are listed here. It is said that locking up those lands is essential to preserving open space and wildlife habitat.

This brings to the “front page” a new proposed action by MFWP via the acquisition of an additional 554 acres to the Garity Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

A hearing was held in Anaconda where MFWP presented the proposal to the public. Members of the Anaconda Sportsman Club (that initiated the deal) were well represented at the hearing. Two private property owners were there also and were raising concerns over private property rights.

Mr. Dvork is the owner of the property that is being sought. He was aware that the process was moving forward but was not aware of a public hearing. As a past executive of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mr. Dvork is said to have initiated the land purchase to be added to the Wildlife Management Area. Mr. Dvork was unavailable for comment for this article.

MFWP officials took public comment at the hearing where concerns where the loss of private property tax base and revenue for local government services were raised. According to MFWP, 87-1-603MCA, provides funding that equals tax revenue that would be assessed on private property. However, funding for the payment of local taxes is authorized under 17-7-502MCA. Under that statute, taxpayers are obligated to fund any warrants created and approved by the department. Taxpayers across Montana cover the cost of purchasing of land and the continued costs associated with the management of that land.

The traditional focus on wildlife management has lost a” seat at the table” due to a shift in management principles that govern actions by MFWP department officials. At the Anaconda meeting, it was stated that the acquisition is being made in part to help keep wildlife out of the community. (As in deer, elk, etc. wandering into neighborhoods.)

Additionally, natural resources like timber, mining, grazing will be off-limits and motorized access will be permanently removed. This follows the quest for resource mitigation reaching from Butte, Montana to Missoula, Montana.

Weed management on private property is a priority in Montana and across the west. When and if the property is becomes state-owned, the weed management on the property will take a back seat to the management program, which is based on funding availability. The property already owned by MFWP in the area is not being treated for weeds.

When one looks at the geographic locale, this fits into the puzzle of the Yukon to Yellowstone Wildlife corridor. Back in 1993, environmental groups met and created a blueprint at the Rio Summit, thus signifying the beginning of Agenda 21. Under this management program, all land in the area will be closed to all use from December to May of each year.

Many citizens are typically unaware of pending actions until the final decision is made. Public comment on this acquisition proposal will close the 2nd week in December 2019. For more information on the project contact MFWP official Torrey Ritter @ torrey.ritter@mt.gov or call him at 406-381-2339.

 

Don Bradway contributed to this article.

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1 Comment on Montana Squeezes Private Property Owners For Control

  1. New term for taking our private property rights: management. Then you have the non-partisan support of MT Sen Steve Daines’ “new & improved” CSKT Water Compact “taking” the MT People’s Water Rights. That will be the “first” taking, setting the stage for other states, with or without tribal reservations. See https://thepeoplescompact.wordpress.com/

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