Governor Steve Bullock, sportsmen groups, and landowners today announced a collaborative and innovative effort to increase access to public lands through the new Montana Public Land Access Network, or the MT-PLAN.
“We are 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. 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,” said Governor Bullock. “The MT-PLAN provides an opportunity for Montanans to help us gain access to even more of Montana’s public lands.”
House Bill 597, sponsored by Representative Alan Doane, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support during the 2017 Legislative Session and was signed into law by Governor Bullock. The bill creates a voluntary contribution account and grant program, known as the MT-PLAN, and will be administered by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to pursue public access easements to open up public lands for recreational purposes and complete projects that enhance existing public access sites across Montana.
“This approach encourages unity between landowners and sportsmen, rather than further division,” said Rep. Alan Doane.
The MT-PLAN is widely supported by a diverse range of landowners and sportsmen groups for its innovative approach to provide incentives to private landowners for increasing public access across private land to otherwise inaccessible public lands.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was one of the first and largest supporters of the MT-PLAN, giving a generous $25,000 contribution to help launch the program.
“Access to quality wildlife habitat is one of the most important challenges facing hunters in Montana. All too often, land ownership patterns prevent hunters and other recreationists from accessing public lands in Montana,” said David Allen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO. “RMEF has helped address this problem by opening or securing public access to nearly 300,000 acres in Montana through key acquisitions and easements. 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. We are pleased to make a significant contribution to the Network’s fund.”
The Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Conservation Voters, Montana Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Boone and Crocket Club have also helped to lay the foundation of the MT-PLAN with pledges of support.
The MT-PLAN is DNRC’s first public access grant program aimed at increasing public access to both state trust land and federally managed public land, and will be spearheaded by Public Access Specialist, Ryan Weiss. Governor Bullock created this year the Public Access Specialist to lead public-access acquisition and enhancement initiatives for state and federal lands, and collaborate with private landowners, local governments, federal agencies and other stakeholders. Montana was recently rated as best in the West for lands and access, in part due to the appointment of the Public Access Specialist.
DNRC will offer grant funding to eligible public access proposals for the acquisition of public access easements or enhancements across private land to inaccessible or difficult to access public land for recreational purposes. DNRC will work with successful project applicants and private landowners to negotiate the terms of the access easement or enhancement project.
The MT-PLAN is funded by private donations through the DNRC and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Donations can be made through department websites, the State of Montana website, an authorized wildlife conservation and combination license vendor, or through direct donations to DNRC. Donations are tax deductible, and payments to landowners are exempt from taxation.