Posted: Feb 19, 2013 9:30 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - Busloads of hunters and anglers piled into the halls of the capitol on Monday to show lawmakers they are serious about access to public land.
They were sporting hunter orange and sitting quietly in the House gallery as lawmakers debated two bills.
Representative Kelly Flynn (R - Townsend) wants to take $1.2 million a year from the Habitat Montana account and transfer it to the Block Management Program.
"This is an incentive program," Flynn said. "It benefits sportsmen and landowners in Montana."
The state would then use the money to pay private landowners who open up their land for public use.
Representative Franke Wilmer (D - Bozeman) opposed the bill saying, "It's a bill that pits one good program against, Habitat Montana, from which the funds would come, against another good program which is Block Management."
The bill passed in a 66-34 vote with a majority of Democrats opposing it.
However, the bill which everyone showed up for was House Bill 235, the "Corner Crossing" bill.
Right now more than 800,000 acres of public land are blocked off because they are surrounded by private land.
Representative Ellie Hill's (D - Missoula) bill would allow someone to walk across the corner of private property to access public land.
"We're talking about hopscotch folks," Hill testified. "Leaping from one public corner to the other and never touching the soil of a private property's land."
"It's not about hopscotch. It's about trespassing onto private property," Representative Jeffrey Welborn (R - Dillon) disagreed.
The bill died on the House floor in a 45 - 54 vote.
But for the men and women in orange they say the fight for corner crossing isn't over.
Randy Newberg of the Headwaters Sportsmen Association said not everyone is wealthy enough to own prime hunting ground, so they will continue to work to obtain access to public land.
"Can a person be a property right advocate while denying your neighbor the use and enjoyment of their adjacent properties to the full extent provided by the law?" Newberg asked in a rally on the capitol steps. "I say no."
Representative Ellie Hill (D - Missoula) said currently there isn't clear guidance in statute or in case law about how the public can access these land-locked blocks of property.
"I will say it right here, civil disobedience. Get cited," Hill encouraged the sportsmen. "And a ballot initiative."