Thursday, December 05, 2013

Inaccessible federal lands; groups brainstorm solutions

At the state and national level, politicians goaded by nonpartisan sporting groups are diligently and creatively seeking new and different ways to provide the public with easier entry to public lands. Access to public lands has been one of the top issues among sportsmen’s groups at the Montana Legislature for several of the past sessions. As ranches are sold by longtime family owners to out-of-state and corporate owners, many hunters have seen the number of places they can hunt dwindle. That’s forced more hunters onto the available public lands, which often results in those places quickly becoming void of game as the animals flee to the refuge of off-limits lands. The situation has forced hunters to more actively pursue access to public lands. Two bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate — the aptly named SPORT (Sportsmen's and Public Outdoor Recreation Traditions) Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, and HUNT (Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures) Act. Both would tap 1.5 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s revenue, derived from fees on offshore oil and gas drilling, to pay for the development or purchase of access to federal lands. In the last legislative session, Montana lawmakers successfully defeated a bill that would have allowed the public to cross from public land to public land at property corners, a measure that was vehemently opposed by agricultural groups. he amount of federal and state lands inaccessible to the public is considerable. In developing a fiscal analysis for Jacobson’s bill, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimated that 1.2 million acres of the state’s 5.1 million acres of state school trust land is landlocked. In a recent survey of five Western states, Montana had the dubious honor of claiming the most inaccessible federal lands at 1.95 million acres, according to a study conducted by the nonpartisan Center for Western Priorities. Wyoming followed with 758,000 acres. The other states surveyed and their acreage are New Mexico, 542,000; Colorado, 540,000; Utah, 197,000, and Idaho, 163,000. “And that’s a pretty conservative estimate because of the way the records are kept,” said the CWP’s Trevor Kincaid. “The numbers are probably considerably higher.” Jacobson’s bill — the Unlocking State Lands Program — is just one example of how lawmakers can be creative to reach their goals, and in this case offer an incentive. The program would provide participating landowners a $500 tax credit for every parcel of state land that they opened to public access. The credit would be capped at $2,000. Landowners would have to apply for the credit and the property vetted and posted by FWP. The bill, which would take effect in 2015, sunsets after three years unless renewed...more

What about all these vacant grazing allotments on federal land?  All this effort to give hunters access should be combined with giving ranchers access to these allotments.  SPORT and HUNT should have a RANCH or GRAZE component.

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