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Public Access

When you want to be where the elk and cutthroat are, access matters. But some landowners and lawmakers are shutting us out. Learn which organizations are fighting to keep access open on our public lands.

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Key Public Access Issues
Block Management Program

Block Management Program

In a world where too many prime hunting lands have been lost forever behind ‘no trespassing’ signs, Montana is leading the way to allowing public access to public wildlife. Working together, Montana hunters and landowners have formed a partnership that benefits both parties. That partnership is called the Block Management Program.

Ever watched a herd of pronghorn or a fat rooster pheasant behind a “no trespassing” sign or a locked gate? Block Management opens up those gates, allowing hunters to pursue game on private land, and allowing the landowners to get financial rewards for providing the opportunity.

Through Block Management, Montana is once again showing leadership for the rest of the nation when it comes to public wildlife and private lands. Over 8.5 million acres are enrolled in block management, an area 8 times greater than the Bob Marshall Wilderness. This provides opportunity to hunt upland birds, waterfowl, plus a variety of big game, even for those not lucky enough to own land themselves.

What it does:
The Block Management concept is simple: Fish, Wildlife and Parks enters into an agreement with a landowner to provide access to their place. The program directs some funding from non-resident hunting licenses to pay farmers and ranchers to allow hunting on their land.

The landowner agrees to certain terms, and is compensated according to a formula set by the Legislature and Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

The future of Block Management is an evolving topic of discussion between lawmakers, hunters and landowners. Some issues being thrown around are a block management stamp, increasing the role of the resident hunter in funding block management and how to increase payments to landowners who offer a higher quality hunting experience.

The Block Management system is critical for ensuring hunting and fishing in the future, particularly in eastern Montana, where it’s often a long drive to public land.

What you can do:
After a decade and a half, it’s time to revisit this program, and make sure it works for everyone in the next 50 years. The Private Lands, Public Wildlife Committee is where that will happen. To keep up with what they are working on, check in here regularly.

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Public Lands need Public Access

Montana's waters, wildlife and fish belong to all of us and everyone has a right to enjoy them. At the same time, Montanans revere the right to private property. Working together, we can best assure Montana offers continued access and opportunity, not just a future of locked gates and "no trespassing" signs.

Across Montana, hunters and anglers are being shut out of places we have used and enjoyed for generations. When it comes down to it, it’s getting harder to find a place to hunt and fish. That’s not just coincidence.

Attacks on Access
Private land owners have the right to say who comes on their land, and when. No question. But too often, we see private landowners try to block trails, river access points and roads that are public right of way. Often, these routes lead to traditional hunting land and fishing water. Unfortunately, County governments and Federal land agencies often won’t bother to enforce the law.

If that weren’t enough, some politicians are working to shut us out. The poster-child of these efforts is the perennial attacks to Montana’s stream access law. So far, organized hunters and anglers have kept the Legislature on its toes and kept our access laws on the books.

What you can do:
Montana's access is up for grabs, are you informed and ready to fight? Organizations like the Public Land and Water Access Association (PLWA) are fighting to keep that access open. They're not asking for much, just what's right and ours. They need your help to fight those who would close down our streams and rivers.

Visit the good folks at the Public Land and Water Access Association.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

Land and Water Conservation Fund

They're not making elk winter range anymore. The forests are getting harder to get to. Closed roads, locked gates and timber company sales have reduced your once plentiful hunting grounds. The Land and Water Conservation Fund can help turn that around.

When there's a chance to keep your elk herd's winter ground intact, The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is there to make it happen. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is putting hunters and anglers in the Mountains, the streams, and down in the coulees. It's responsible for increasing access to Montana's public lands and waterways.

What it does:
The program is funded by offshore oil and gas leasing receipts and helps pay for any number of things in Montana; from fishing access sites to the purchase of important blocks of habitat like Fish Creek or the Marshall Block.

In addition, conservation easements funded by LWCF money and partner organizations like the Nature Conservancy help keep family ranchers and farmers out on places like the Rocky Mountain Front.

Why it matters:
1.5% of all LWCF money is fully dedicated to access. The kind of access that matters. With LWCF, we can keep roads open to your public lands through easements on private land. Sometimes just small purchases of land can open huge blocks of public ground, and that means more opportunity for you to chase big bucks and bulls.

In addition, almost 70% of Montana's Fishing Access Sites are funded partially by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, helping ensure Montana's roughly $600 million fishing economy remains vibrant and strong.

K.C. Walsh, CEO of Simms Fishing Company said at a panel discussion recently that "access is critical to our business model." We agree. It's also critical to ensuring future generations of Montanans can grow up on the river chasing caddis hatches in the last glow of twilight. Without these access points, it's a hell of a lot harder to get on the river.

What you can do:
The Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition is working to ensure permanent funding for this critical program. Check out the work they're doing, and lend your voice in support of LWCF.

Additional Noteworthy
Issues and Efforts

Stream access matters, so do funding sources that invest in public lands right-of-ways. The big headlines of the past year show it’s always going to be a fight to keep our access open.

issue_arrowTester Proposes Expansive Sportsmen’s Act
As the latest Farm Bill lands on the U.S. Senate floor for consideration, Montana Sen. Jon Tester has proposed an expansive amendment designed to increase access to public lands, fund new shooting ranges and reauthorize a federal grant program that protects wildlife habitat, among other sportsmen-related measures... Read More

issue_arrowSportsmen group to appeal bridge ruling
A sportsmen’s group has appealed an April ruling by a judge that limits public access to streams from bridges on roads with historic prescriptive easements... Read More

issue_arrowMontana’s public lands help drive job growth, report says
WHITEFISH – For more than a century, Montana’s wide open spaces have driven the statewide economy, but the value of the land is shifting from an extractive resource to a geographic grail... Read More

issue_arrowNew Drilling fees pay for new national forest lands in 15 states, including Montana
Offshore drilling fees are financing the purchase of $41.6 million worth of new national forest lands in 15 states, including Montana... Read More

issue_arrowWhy Land and Water Conservation Fund matters to Montana
Hunting season is in full swing in Montana, and we are reminded of the privilege it is to enjoy some of the best hunting opportunities in the West. What we sometimes overlook is that hunters and other outdoor recreationists enjoy access to our public lands in part due to the Land and Water Conservation Fund... Read More

issue_arrowStream access bill dies in committee
A controversial proposal to revise the state's stream access law died in committee Tuesday at the Montana Legislature... Read More