Committee OK's shifting Habitat Montana toward access issues

9 p.m. UPDATE: HB 651 failed the second reading on the House floor by a vote of 47-53, so the bill is probably dead.

In spite of overwhelming opposition, Republicans have resurrected a bill to create a second public-land access specialist and spend sportsmen’s dollars buying land for access that might be poor habitat.

In a specially scheduled meeting Wednesday, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Kerry White, R-Bozeman, brought House Bill 651 up for an unprecedented third round of executive action. Montana already has a public-land access specialist working in the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to improve public access to all public lands, but HB 651 would create another position under the state land board to increase access to state lands using Habitat Montana funds.

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Effort to divert wildlife habitat money fails

An effort to shunt wildlife habitat funds toward a redundant state-land position died Monday, leaving sportsmen relieved but still a bit frustrated.

In an 8-7 vote, the House Natural Resources Committee failed to pass House Bill 651 and then unanimously tabled it. HB 651 would have created a public-land-access advocate who would report to the state Land Board and who was allotted $100,000 a year out of the Habitat Montana program. The Habitat Montana account was created in 1987 to purchase conservation easements and fee title land that provided good wildlife habitat and thus hunting opportunity.

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Bill would remove outfitter exclusivity on state lands

A state legislator wants public hunters to have the same access as outfitters to isolated state-trust lands, but no one knows how much land that actually would affect.

On Thursday, Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, used a familiar justification for his bill, House Bill 243, which would prevent hunting outfitters from having sole access to landlocked parcels of state-trust land.

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Ruby River case upholds recreational stream access

Montana’s stream access laws have become a sparring point in this year’s gubernatorial race, so it’s fitting that one of the larger lawsuits in recent history appears to be settled, with Montana on the winning side.

Two weeks ago, a Madison county judge supported the cause of stream-access proponents when he ruled that the public was allowed to use a strip of land to either side of a road and bridge across the Ruby River. That was the final piece of a much larger case that the Public Land/Water Access Association filed a dozen years ago against media billionaire James Cox Kennedy after he tried to deny public access to the Ruby River, in this case via the Seylor Lane Bridge.

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Tester uses town-hall call-in to explain conservation strategy

Sen. Jon Tester tried to reach out to Montanans regarding Congressional issues affecting public lands and conservation in Montana. But some callers preferred to make their own points or raise questions on unrelated issues.

Tester started off the Wednesday evening call going over the main issues he wanted to address: preserving public land, reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, improving forest management by removing wildfire suppression costs from the Forest Service budget and the Congressional brinksmanship related to raising the federal debt ceiling.

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Enraged neighbor threatens boaters at Boulder River access site

A landowner who regularly interferes with the public's access to one of Montana’s streams has the notoriety of being a point of concern at two Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission meetings.

Landowner Sean Tetica has repeatedly threatened recreationalists trying to use the Boulder Forks Fishing Access Site to launch their boats onto the Boulder River south of Big Timber.

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Reintroduced sportsmen's bills would fund access, conservation

One should never get too excited when bills are introduced because the Congressional process often takes years to produce a law. But sportsmen’s groups think they could finally score with a new attempt at a bipartisan bill that includes a Montana-made proposal.

On Thursday, four House representatives introduced H.R. 3173, the “Sportsmen’s Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Enhancement Act,” otherwise known as SCORE, which would create or renew seven programs that benefit sportsmen, recreationalists and wildlife.

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Few favor Wilks proposal but council approves land-swap concept

While favoring the concept of a land swap, an advisory committee stopped short of approving a new Wilks brothers proposal to trade parts of their property for landlocked federal parcels in eastern Montana.

On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management Central Resource Advisory Council finished up a two-day meeting in Lewistown by passing a motion to consider the concept of a land swap as an alternative to building a new road to access the Bullwacker area near the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument.

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