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YOUR BOOTS ON THE HILL: Calling on the Capitol for private property rights, sage grouse funding, predation

We talked a lot about Montana's No. 1 industry in Governor Steve Bullock's office this week. On Wednesday, a table full of Young Farmers and Ranchers in our Calling on the Capitol event sat down with the governor and talking about value-added ag opportunities, the impact of international trade, Sage Grouse and more.

Gov. Bullock also shared a personal story about his first taste of the policy process as a legislative intern: "It didn't change the world, but it did show that one person with a passion could make a difference," he said.

He spoke candidly and passionately about the value of and opportunities to make big, positive changes in the world by taking little steps, showing up, caring and not being afraid to fail. We're proud of our young farmers and ranchers who did just that this week in meeting with the Montana Department of Agriculture, Department of Livestock, Secretary of State’s office, Fish, Wildlife and Parks office and in Gov. Bullock’s office.

Here’s a rundown of the bills that were making their way through committee throughout the week:

House Bill 243: Prohibit outfitting on state lands inaccessible to public access.


Sponsored by Rep. Tom Jacobson (D) HD 21 / Great Falls. Heard in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee Wednesday, Jan. 26.

This bill would prohibit landowners from allowing an outfitter to cross private land to gain access to state land unless the state land is accessible to the general public. Additionally, it makes the lessee of the state land criminally liable if they allow an outfitter to cross their private property to access state land that is not accessible to the general public. Landowners may be fined a minimum of $500 per section of leased state trust land.

This bill is a blatant violation of private property rights. It’s very common for state lands to be land-locked by private holdings, and it’s the private landowners’ right to decide who is and isn’t allowed on their land. Further, revenue generated by state trust lands, which includes revenue from outfitting licenses, benefits education systems throughout Montana.  HB 243 reduces the funding those school systems would receive.

Montana Farm Bureau strongly opposes this bill, and we encourage private landowners to reach out to members of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee about it.

House Bill 228: Provide funding for sage grouse


Sponsored by Rep. Jim Keane (D) HD 73 / Butte. Heard in House Natural Resources committee Tuesday, Jan. 25.

This bill revises the funding for Montana’s sage grouse conservation program that was created during the 2015 legislative session. In 2015, there was a $10 million appropriation made to the program for conservation.  This bill revises that funding and will appropriate $2 million to the program every two years.

Montana Farm Bureau members’ policy firmly supports the funding of this management plan in an effort to keep the Sage Grouse off the Endangered Species List. We believe this funding is adequate to maintain the program goals and conservation efforts.

Montana’s farm and ranch families stand to lose the most if the Sage Grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act, and we support these efforts to keep the management of the species in Montana hands.

House Bill 286: Allow livestock loss reimbursement for mountain lion predation


Sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw, (R) HD 71 / Sheridan. Heard in the House Agriculture committee, Monday, Jan. 24.

Currently, only livestock predation by wolves and grizzlies are eligible for reimbursement through the Livestock Loss Board. This bill would add mountain lion predation to the list of eligible reimbursements.

Montana Farm Bureau spoke in support of this bill because mountain lions are a controlled, regulated species and it’s difficult for livestock owners to mitigate predation with this species.

House Bill 256: Revise legal fence laws


Sponsored by Rep. Casey Knudsen (R) HD 33 / Malta. Heard in House Agriculture Committee Tuesday, Jan. 24.

During the 2015 legislative session, electric fences were added to existing fence laws as a legal fence option.  However, there were no criteria established for what constituted a legal electric fence.

This bill clarifies the definition of an electric fence. According to this bill, it consists of at least three strands of 12.5-gauge steel wire (commonly referred to as high tensile wire); it is strung by sufficient posts set firmly in the ground no more than 30 feet apart; it is charged with a standard charger sufficient for the entirety of the fence; it is regularly maintained by the fence owner to ensure proper operation.

Montana Farm Bureau’s member policy supported this bill, but we did ask to see an amendment added. We believe the post spacing requirement language is too specific and potentially prohibitive. As farmers and ranchers know, when you’re fencing across a water way, down a steep draw, or across variable terrain it’s difficult to ensure an exact post spacing of 30 feet every time. There were other amendments suggested during the committee hearing, and we’re confident our request about post spacing will be incorporated.

If you’re interested in seeing the Legislative process first-hand and meeting with your elected officials, mark your calendar for March 21-22. We’ll be hosting our County’s Calling on the Capitol event, and it’s open to all Montana Farm Bureau members to join. Visit www.mfbf.org for details.

Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Sweet Grass County, Montana. In addition to lobbying full-time on behalf of farmers and ranchers, Chelcie and her husband are growing their own herd of commercial cattle and a professional fencing business. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 587-3153 or chelciec@mfbf.org. The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.