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Ranching for Wildlife


Why is an access organization concerned about privatizing or commercializing public wildlife? Because it has been our experience that whenever there is greater profit to be made from selling access to wildlife the greater the incentive becomes to close off traditional public access roads. Control of access to land means control of wildlife and that means more profit.

Recently, there has been a great deal of rhetoric in support of privatizing and commercializing public wildlife. The P.E.R.C. organization out of Bozeman has had guest editorials about private property including wildlife. Another Bozeman entry is a book authored by a member of Rocky Mountains Landowners, James Knight, instructing readers on how to increase wildlife on their property and also how to develop trophy horns and antlers on their animals. Some legislators are also claiming an injustice because public wildlife animals eat thousands of tons of forage that should be used by their livestock. And lastly, with a large number of draft legislative bills dealing with wildlife management this session, I would be very surprised if at least one isn't proposing a program such as Ranching For Wildlife for Montana. Such a program would allow landowners to sell tags and or licenses directly to "clients".

I believe these folks need to have a history lesson. Let's start with the U.S. Supreme Court in 1842, when the Justices addressed the idea of the King's Deer. I quote ,"The people are the sovereigns. What once belonged to the King now belongs to the people. " The same court followed in 1896 with a more precise decision, "Control of wildlife is to be exercised as a trust for the benefit of all people, and not for the government, as distinct from the people, or for the benefit of private individuals as distinguished from the public".

Thus, the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that wildlife is to be connected to the people and not to the land (as it is in most of Europe.)

As for the forage consumed by wildlife, The Montana Supreme Court addressed this issue in two cases. In both Sacksmen and Rathbone the court stated, "Wild game existed here long before the of coming of man. One who acquires property in Montana does so with the notice and knowledge of the presence of wild game. Accordingly, a property owner in this state must recognize there may be some injury to property from wild game for which there is no recourse."

Beyond the court decision that wild game on the land is a condition of acquisition (much the same as recognizing the fact that the wind will blow and rivers will periodically flood ) there is the fact that private livestock eats forage on several million acres of public land that could be available for public wildlife, while the token charge of $ 1.40 per Animal Unit Month for public land grazing amounts to nothing more than a subsidy.

Landowners, many of you know and honor the fact that wildlife is a public resource and we appreciate that. We also do not dispute the fact that you have complete control of who may go upon your property. To the others who would ignore history and would attempt to sell wildlife for profit, the courts have made it very clear that public wildlife cannot be sold and must be managed as a part of the public trust. Here in Montana we have hired the Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, and no one else, to manage our wildlife.

John Gibson

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( 07/01/2016 )   The June-July, Newscasts section of Fly Fisherman reported on the recent investigation by Montana's Commissioner of Political Practices, Jonathan Motl, into a dark money campaign that could overturn Montana's Stream Access.Fly Fisherman recounted the Montana Growth Network's campaign contributions to District Judge Laurie McKinnon's run for our Montana Supreme Court.

public land issues

Seyler Lane Update
9/24/2015Seyler Bridge Easement - More Than Just RecreationUpdate - Kennedys attorney requested a postponement of the September 21 hearing.

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9/24/2015Tenderfoot Creek is a tributary of the Smith River, joining the Smith a mile or so north of Camp Baker.

    18 more public land issues

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Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA, is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.

Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice. Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.
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