Thursday, July 12, 2018

Montana Sportsmen Alliance Endorses Kathleen Williams

Montana Sportsmen Alliance Endorse Kathleen Williams for U.S House

BOZEMAN, MT - The Montana Sportsmen Alliance (MSA) announced today its endorsement of Kathleen Williams for the U.S. House of Representatives. Citing her support of access to public lands, streams, and rivers as well as opposition to the transfer or sell-off of public lands, MSA said the choice to endorse Williams was clear.

"Kathleen Williams will be a strong ally to preserve Montana's hunting and fishing heritage," said Joe Perry, President of MSA from Brady. "Future generations are relying on what we do today and Kathleen won't back down from the special interests threatening our outdoor way of life."

"I have a proven record of working to protect our public lands while reaching out to private landowners to find real solutions," said Williams. "With the help of Montana Sportsmen Alliance, I'll work hard to protect our hunting and fishing heritage not only because it's the right thing to do, but because I'm a hunter, too."

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance is comprised of Montana hunting, angling, and conservation minded individuals who are committed to insuring the effective representation of rank and file sportsmen in public policy matters. The Alliance works to continue the core values of public ownership of public wildlife, and public access to public resources. MSA works with public officials and agency personnel to promote sound stewardship of natural resources and to preserve Montana’s hunting and fishing heritage.
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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Montana Sportsmen Alliance endorses Jon Tester for Senate






Montana Sportsmen Alliance Endorses Farmer Jon Tester for United States Senate

Billings—Today, the Montana Sportsmen Alliance endorsed farmer and United States Senator Jon Tester for his proven record of relentlessly defending our public lands and Montana’s outdoor heritage.
Tester has always been a strong champion for Montana’s outdoor economy, which supports more than 70,000 jobs annually. And he has consistently opposed efforts to sell off or transfer federal public lands, has fought to reduce barriers to public access of land, and has worked to protect public land from development.
“There’s no doubt about it—keeping public lands in public hands is a Montana value,” Tester said. “With the help of groups like the Montana Sportsmen Alliance, we can fight back against outsiders who are hell-bent on taking our public lands and fundamentally changing our Montana way of life. I’m proud to stand with them and I’m proud to have their endorsement.”
“Jon understands that here in Montana, being able to use this state’s natural resources for hunting, angling, and recreation isn’t just our hobby, it’s our heritage,” said Joe Perry, President of the Montana Sportsmen Alliance. “We owe it to the next generation of Montanans to preserve our public lands so they can enjoy the same kind of access we do. Jon Tester is a proven fighter, and we’re proud to endorse him as the best candidate to represent our core values to Washington.”



Paid for by Montanans for Tester

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Jim Posewitz

Meet the man who's spent a lifetime conserving Montana’s natural resources

Posted: Apr 23, 2018 8:06 PM MDT
Considered to be the father of hunting ethics in the nation, Jim Posewitz has spent a lifetime conserving Montana’s natural resources and he hopes that future generations will carry on that fight.
Posewitz has advocated for Montana’s outdoor conservation and now through a new memoir he hopes to pass those lessons to future generations.
“When we talk about the things that most Montanans value, it is the things we failed to exploit, the things we have nurtured, preserved and restored that give us our greatest sense of pride -- a Montana with wild places for the next generation to be young in,” Posewitz said.
Posewitz worked for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for more than 30 years where he helped protect many of the Treasure State’s famed rivers and open spaces.
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‘Just reinforces the importance of standing up and fighting for those things you value, because you will come to a point in life where those memories are all that you got,” Posewitz said.
Today, Posewitz believes we will need to learn from the past in order to preserve Montana’s outdoors in the future.
“When we study Montana history we learn more about the guys who left us the Berkeley Pit than we do about the guy who gave us the Lincoln Scapegoat, or protected the Rocky Mountain Front or restored wild trout to the headwaters of the Missouri,” Posewitz said.
Posewitz refers to a quote by his conservation hero Teddy Roosevelt as to why Montana’s outdoor heritage is so important.
“And he says we did these things, talking about setting aside public lands, we did this thing for the economic well-being of the people,” Posewitz said. “But there was more, because these things add to the beauty of living and the joy of life.
Posewitz is the author of five books.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

IF YOU’RE THINKING OF HIRING AN OUTFITTER….


IF YOU’RE THINKING OF HIRING AN OUTFITTER….

Many folks, at one time or another, and for various reasons, choose to enlist the services of an outfitter as a means of enjoying Montana’s great outdoors. Outfitters make their living based on the public’s resources and as such, have a responsibility and an obligation to their clients, the resources they use and the public at large to do so upholding the highest standards of professionalism and dedication to sharing those public resources.

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance generally focuses on issues and policies affecting resident Sportsmen, most of which do not use outfitters. Yet, we recognize that both residents and non-residents alike do have occasion to utilize them. We believe that only licensed outfitters with proven records of operating safely, using equipment in good repair that provide a quality, ethical and legal service merit support. In light of recent developments and proposals by the Montana Board of Outfitters (the state agency that licenses hunting and fishing outfitters) that we believe directly affects the quality of outfitted services licensed outfitters provide, we believe that “consumers” should do extensive homework prior to hiring an outfitter and committing funds to a trip. 

Outfitter members of the Montana Board of Outfitters voted to change the first aid certification requirements for outfitters and guides. Previously, outfitters and guides had to have annual re-ups of training. The new rule requires only one, in-person, hands on training for a lifetime and then subsequent on-line “refreshers” from then on.  MSA opposed this change, as the nature of first aid training changes over time and the annual hands-on training provides not only currency but physically requires an individual to demonstrate competency.  We believe this change will adversely affect the safety and welfare of both outfitted clients and the general public as well. Additionally, it also affects Outfitter Assistants (unlicensed, untrained guides) who are currently allowed as  “emergency guides” when an outfitter encounters a last minute, unanticipated shortage of staff. It should also be noted that Outfitter Assistants are not subject to ANY guide licensing requirements or training, including first aid certification. There are no background checks or law enforcement checks.  Literally anyone qualifies regardless of track records.
The Montana Board of Outfitters is accepting comments on a rule change until April 13th at 5 PM.   The rule pkg includes rules on Outfitter Assistants.  Comments can be made to the Montana Board of Outfitters at dlibsdout@mt.gov.


If you are considering booking a Montana Outfitter ask questions. These should include, but in no way are limited to the following:

1. Make sure they are licensed. If a hunting outfitter only operates on private land held by the outfitter in title he/she does not need to be licensed by the state. If however, they use any land not belonging to them (a neighbor, friend, etc.) or operates on any state or federal lands, or on a Montana river, they must be licensed. Be sure you’re hiring a legal, licensed (if appropriate) outfitter. The Montana Board of Outfitters lists all licensed outfitters on their website.

2. Has this outfitter used Outfitter Assistants? If so, how many?  Use of OA's could be be an indication of ongoing poor planning, poor business plan, and a spur of the moment approach to the business, taking shortcuts  and as a result, affecting the potential quality of your trip. Outfitters using Outfitter’s Assistants are supposed to disclose to the client if the person guiding him/her is an Outfitter’s Assistant and if they have first aid training as soon as possible. You should have the option to decline the trip or the specific guide’s services if you feel that he/she does not meet muster or if it appears that the trip is being cobbled together at the last minute.

3. The potential for abuse and disappointment in a trip can be very high. Be sure that all of your expectations as well as the outfitter’s abilities to meet them are clearly and fully articulated and in writing. Make sure you are getting what you need, what was promised and what you pay for. Websites often tout the experience and qualifications of guides.  They don't talk about OA's.  Shop around and see what’s out there and how various outfitters portray themselves. Ask for references.  If it is important to you, specify from the start that you demand only a licensed guide with first aid training, no OA's.

4. No outfitter can guarantee success of taking game or fish on a trip. They can give stats on how many of their hunters took game or what generally to expect in a fishing trip. Success, however, is dependant on so many variables (many of which are outside the control of an outfitter) that short of tying an elk to a tree or fishing in a stock pond, no one can guarantee results. If the outfitter makes guarantees in taking game or fish in their advertising or in speaking to you, go elsewhere.  Seek truly ethical fair chase pursuits.

5. Montana has lots of high quality outfitters. Make sure you get what you are looking for in terms of services to have the type of trip you want. In the course of hiring an outfitter, keep a written record of your calls, what was discussed, any costs and conditions mentioned and keep correspondence. Most outfitters require a non-refundable deposit for trips.  Check to see if there are exceptions and be sure to document any funds sent as a deposit. Legal and ethical outfitters are not afraid to put down in writing (a contract) what their terms and services are. Be wary of verbal agreements.

6. Problems with an outfitter or guide in terms of service quality, ethical behavior or noncompliance with terms of a trip should be reported to the Montana Board of Outfitters at:  
dlibsdout@mt.gov   You may file a written complaint with the Board on which the Board has the obligation to investigate and possibly, prosecute. Legal issues involving the unlawful taking of fish or wildlife during a trip should be reported to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks law enforcement personnel, Montana Game Wardens. During hunting season and in the field, reports can be made to the poaching hotline, TIPMONT (1-800-TIPMONT) or electronically at http://fwp.mt.gov/enforcement/tipmont/reportOnline.html   During business hours, questions regarding legal issues can be addressed to the Law Enforcement Division, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, (406) 444-2452. If you see something, say something!  It is every sportsmen/women's duty to report violations.

Only through efforts expended prior to a trip can you be assured of getting all you pay for, not to mention a quality experience. It is also a way to support and encourage those who are doing it right and eliminating those who are not from the ranks of those doing business in Montana.

MSA Leadership

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Local Value of Wilderness/ Andrew McKean

The Local Value of Wilderness

Local input is a hallmark of democracy. Good laws should and do bubble up from neighborhoods, country churches, and bar stools, just as bad ideas are often killed by the folks who have to live with the results.

That’s why, if you’re running for public office, it’s a smart idea to say that you’re in support of local decisions. Imagine the alternative: “I’m from the distant government and I’m here to tell you how to live your life.” You probably wouldn’t win many votes.

But that alternative is precisely what our lone U.S. Congressman, Greg Gianforte, did last month, when he announced that he’s introducing legislation to remove protections from a whole class of public land in Montana without holding a single local meeting in the affected areas.

Specifically, Gianforte is proposing to “release” nearly 700,000 acres of federal land in Montana designated as wilderness study areas (WSAs) to the agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM, that already manage the various properties. Gianforte’s legislation is similar to that introduced by Montana’s junior Senator, Steve Daines, but Gianforte’s goes further, by including WSAs managed by the BLM as candidates to lose protection.

In Valley County, Gianforte’s bill would “release” the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area, some 59,000 lonely acres just south of the Canadian line roughly between Opheim and Theony. Wilderness study areas generally, and Bitter Creek specifically, are particularly troublesome designations. They were designated way back in the 1970s as federal lands that exhibit some elements of wilderness: they’re generally unroaded, they offer pristine viewscapes and the opportunity to get away from modern contrivances such as powerlines and compressor stations. They exhibit most of the qualities that defined wilderness in the 1964 Wilderness Act (and as you read this, see if it characterizes Bitter Creek): “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

WSA typically don’t have the soaring peaks or big trees or clear trout water of designated wilderness areas, but they do have important benefits, such as wildlife security habitat, intact native range, and accessible contiguous public land. Most traditional uses, including grazing, hunting, hiking, camping, and fishing, are allowed on WSAs.

These WSAs have existed in a sort of administrative limbo for 40 years – not remarkable or remote or sacred enough to be elevated to full-fledged wilderness, but still cherished for their primitive nature. The “study” in their title is part of their problem, and Gianforte isn’t wrong to address it. They haven’t been studied for years. Instead, they exist as a sort of thumb in the eye of folks who would like to open the land for the full range of multiple uses. And the “study” designation isn’t satisfying for conservationists who would like to see the wilderness protection made permanent.

If you’ve ever hunted or hiked in Bitter Creek, you might have experienced some of the primitive nature that made it a wilderness candidate a generation ago. It hasn’t changed much since then, which is sort of the point of wilderness areas. Bitter Creek contains some of the best mule deer habitat in the county, and it’s a favorite place for birdwatchers who appreciate the differences between chestnut-collared longspurs and McGowan’s longspurs, and who deeply care about the declining populations of our native grassland birds. Its designation makes it one of the few BLM properties that we know won’t change over the next generation, which is a comfort as change increasingly defines land management in Valley County.

Bitter Creek’s charms are subtle, like the gumbo hillside encrusted with fossilized clam shells that I found one day as I trailed a wide-racked mule deer buck miles inside the WSA boundary. I never got close enough to that buck to make a shot, but the hillside of shells, a relic of the Precambrian sea that once covered what is now northeastern Montana, remains one of my great finds in our area. The glaciers that ground down much of the plains north of the Milk River missed this particular knob. Finding those plate-sized shells was like looking through a window back 100 million years.

As a wilderness area, Bitter Creek is complicated and compromised. It is bisected by a half-dozen roads. Enforcement of off-road travel can be lax. And its designation makes it a target for derision. Recall the wind farm proposed for the ridge adjacent to the Bitter Creek WSA? The industrial energy project that was aimed at eroding local support for the WSA? The heavily-subsidized project that was finally scrapped when it was revealed that the development was really a front for a tax scam propagated by a wealthy Texas speculator?
But enough about Bitter Creek. I cherish it for its wildness and the chance it offers to discover unknown chunks of country. Many folks look at its designation as needless. Even the BLM concluded that it doesn’t really exhibit enough wilderness qualities to support a wilderness area.

Should we lift the WSA designation from Bitter Creek? Maybe so. Let’s have a discussion about it. But that discussion is precisely what Gianforte’s bill denies us. There have been zero opportunities for local input into the decision. I see that the Valley County Commission has gone on record in support of removing the WSA designation, but when did the commission solicit their constituents’ views on the topic? As a public-land user and advocate, I never heard about a discussion, and neither did the two dozen other sportsmen I know who hunt Bitter Creek.

Local knowledge and wisdom is an undervalued commodity. Input from the folks who have to live with the decisions made by our politicians should be solicited at every turn, not only to broaden local support for laws, but to make them better and more livable.
If Gianforte continues to say that he values local input, then he needs to seek it out. If he doesn’t, then he can accurately be described as another out-of-touch representative of the distant government telling us how to live our lives.



Note: Montana Sportsmen Alliance PAC The Montana Sportsmen Alliance has not taken a stand on individual WSA's. We do not support either Gianforte or Daines' bills eliminating them. We support local Montana voices in having the debate on each as to their individual values! These bills deny a voice to Montanan's. They are no different than making it all wilderness without local input. Both Gianforte and Daines owe it to this state to allow all voices to participate in a public process where these decisions are vetted and made. If that takes a lot more time, so be it!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Land Board delay raises questions about conservation easements as a public access tool

by Tom Kuglin


Finding a place to hunt on the two-thirds of Montana that is privately owned can be a tricky proposition.

Whether they are a result of changing demographics, financial reasons or convenience, stories of once accessible private property being shut off recur each year. While a landowner’s right to control access remains fundamental, hunters have increasingly cited the need for access as one of the biggest threats to the future of hunting in Montana.

One of the programs the state uses to push for public access is Habitat Montana, housed under Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The program is simple on its face: a portion of hunting and fishing license sales goes into an account, and FWP uses it to acquire access.
But for more than 25 years Habitat Montana, with funding going to both land purchases and conservation easements on private property, has had its critics.

Habitat Montana has been very well intended, very well conceived and been sternly if not unanimously supported by hunters and folks who want access,” said Glenn Marx, executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “But it has also always been at some level of controversy as it’s been implemented by the department, because it allows more government management to a degree on private land. There has always been a segment of the Montana Legislature and the Montana population who has concerns about more government in more places in more ways.”

The primary criticism of Habitat Montana centers on land purchases. FWP’s acquisition of entire ranches has met resistance to growing the state’s estate. In 2015 lawmakers took away FWP’s authority to purchase more land, restricting the account to private land easements. The purchase authority was restored last year but came with a continued legislative preference for easements.

Conservation easements are a contract between a private landowner and entities such as land trusts or government agencies. Easements come in many shapes and sizes, but typically landowners agree to limit development. In exchange, landowners may receive payment and tax incentives -- the incentives a result of depreciating the value of the property by agreeing not to subdivide. Easements may contain other provisions for public access or habitat conservation, and are often touted as a means of keeping land in agriculture.

State Board of Land Commissioners
Following unanimous approval by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, last week’s split-vote by the Montana State Board of Land Commissioners to indefinitely delay a decision on an eastern Montana conservation easement has raised questions about the coexistence of oil and gas development with habitat, hunting and agriculture.

Monday, February 26, 2018

MSA ALERT: All hands on deck! Horse Creek CE delayed or tabled by Land Board


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Land Board delays action on conservation easement embroiled in property rights debate

topical top story
Montana State Land Board

Land Board delays action on conservation easement embroiled in property rights debate


On a split vote Tuesday, the Montana State Board of Land Commissioners indefinitely postponed a decision on an eastern Montana conservation easement that has sparked debate about private property rights and the coexistence of oil and gas development with agriculture and hunting.
The governor-appointed Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission last week unanimously approved the 15,000-acre Horse Creek Conservation Easement between the Stenson family and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, which put a final decision before the Land Board Tuesday. The Land Board is made up of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, and Republicans Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, State Auditor Matt Rosendale, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and Attorney General Tim Fox.
Citing a desire for more time, Stapleton, Rosendale and Arntzen voted to indefinitely postpone a vote, with Bullock and Fox opposed.
The proposed $6.1 million easement is funded by both federal and state dollars. About $4.3 million would come from the Habitat Montana program funded by hunting and fishing license revenue. Under the terms, the Stensons would provide walk-in public access and manage for wildlife habitat and agriculture while foregoing subdivision.
While the Stensons own surface rights to their ranch, they do not own the mineral rights. The easement has recently come under scrutiny over concerns from mineral right owners Hodges Ranch LP that oil and gas companies will shy away from property under easement. Lilia Tyrrell, an attorney representing the mineral interests, also argued last week and Tuesday that the terms of the conservation easement cannot be guaranteed if oil and gas development proceeds.
“Everyone in this room can value the need for conservation easements in this region. … A vote today is not a vote against those principles, it is a vote for fiscal responsibility,” she told the Land Board. “You’re not getting what you think you’re paying for.”
While her clients are “not looking to clearcut land or devastate wildlife habitat,” legal decisions have granted mineral development rights that can significantly impact the surface, Tyrell said. She closed by further criticizing the $6.1 million cost, which she believed did not accurately reflect the value of a property with split surface and mineral rights.
Adele Stenson called the easement a “collaborative effort” and said “this project should not be the battle, it should be celebrated.” While the family wants a place at the table if mineral development does proceed, she says her family has no interest in standing in the way of Hodges’ rights.
“We remain very confident that this easement harms nobody and provides a lot of benefits for a lot of people,” she continued. Giving the mineral right owners a say in the conservation easement treads on her family’s surface property rights, and “if they wanted to keep the surface rights they shouldn’t have sold us the land.”
A denial or delay of the easement could put the purchase of five sections of land they currently lease in jeopardy, Adele Stenson said, which is land they need to keep the ranch economically viable.
The easement fulfills a need for securing public access in predominately privately owned southeastern Montana, FWP Director Martha Williams told the board. Her agency followed procedures laid out in Montana law and language of the easement mirrors that of other easements held by FWP, including those that have seen oil and gas development.
Following last week’s meeting, the actual potential of mineral exploration remained under dispute Tuesday. Tyrrell cited interest in oil and gas exploration in the region, while FWP determined a low probability based on dry and low producing wells in the area.
Hunting and conservation groups, as well as the Montana Association of Land Trusts, testified in support of the easement.
Land conservation attorney Andrew Dana testified that conservation easements with split surface and mineral rights are not uncommon, and said there are dozens of wells currently producing on land under easement.
Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director Alan Olson said his organization came into the issue only recently.
“So that it’s very clear to everybody, our members are supportive of conservation easements and in this case, the access it brings for hunting opportunities,” he said. “We’re also supportive of the landowner’s rights to pursue conservation easements.”
Olson said he was contacted about a week ago by the mineral right owners, and believes there needs to be a meaningful discussion to ensure that all have a seat at the table. Olson went on to note that the easement puts FWP at the table if mineral exploration were to occur, and expressed concerns that FWP has “protested” oil and gas on state and federal lands.
Under questioning from Bullock, Olson said he believes FWP should make greater efforts to locate and include mineral right owners in the easement, a process that Williams testified could cost up to $1,000 per acre. Objections from the Hodges came in relatively late in the process, she said.
During commissioner questioning, Fox explained his background in geology and mineral law, and said he agreed that oil and gas development is not incompatible with a conservation easement.
“When you sell the surface you lose control of the interest … it’s not a harsh reality, it’s just a reality,” he said, going on to say he does not believe the easement puts mineral development at risk.
Arntzen was the first to ask for a delay, saying she believed access is important, but she needed more information “to understand the rights below the ground as above the ground.”
Stapleton agreed to the delay, saying he felt it is poor public policy to enter agreements that go into perpetuity.
“Forever is a long time,” he said, noting other entities involved.
Rosendale said the easement was more complex than most, calling it a “disservice” to have a five-day period between the fish and wildlife commission’s decision and the Land Board's.
Bullock asked what more could be learned if the project were delayed against what is at risk if the easement falls through.
“A delay could mean killing this opportunity to have hunting here in perpetuity," he said.
Fox agreed, saying “There’s nothing left to learn in delaying anything here,” and went on to respond to Stapleton, saying “if you’re spending this kind of money for this kind of conservation easement, you’d better get it in perpetuity.”
Tyrrell declined to comment.
Adele Stenson issued a statement following the meeting.
“To say we are frustrated and disheartened by this delay would be a huge understatement,” she said.
“We have worked alongside FWP for the past year and a half to follow every step this process requires. Yet, three members of the Land Board have chosen to delay this decision so they can get more information on a project that meets every parameter required for a Habitat Montana easement, including overwhelming support from the sportsmen and women whose dollars pay for the bulk of this easement. We and FWP have done everything possible to communicate with the board members and their staff to provide them information, and we will continue to do so over the next month. We just hope that the Land Board will take this extra time to objectively judge this easement based on its merits and see the tremendous value it has for the hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts of Montana.”

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Keeping a way of Life: Land Near Glendive Could Get Permanent Protection, Public Access


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15,000 ACRES SLATED FOR CONSERVATION EASEMENT

By Justin Schaaf
Take a hike with me if you will.
It is springtime in Eastern Montana, we are within eyesight of one of Montana’s greatest hidden treasures, Makoshika State Park.
Kip Stenson, the landowner, points us to an area across the Horse Creek bottom to begin our hike. We begin hiking from a homestead that looks as though it has sat vacant for the last fifty years. The house and outbuildings that sit on land now managed by the Bureau of Land Management tell a stark tale. A tale about a family that had invested everything and was unable to make the finances work and ultimately decided it was better to walk away from it all.
Horse Creek Easement, Kip Stenson, Conservation Easement, Dawson County, Wibaux County, Montana, FWP, Land Board
Landowner Kip Stenson and the author check out a mao of the Horse Creek Easement. Photo by Hayden Clark.
It isn’t long until we begin to climb in elevation as we walk through badlands from the Hell Creek Formation, riddled with sandstone hoodoos, dinosaur fossils, and other formations that could only be described by seeing with your own eyes. Our sights are set on a juniper- and cedar-crested butte on the horizon where we plan on taking a break and eating lunch.
On top of the butte we sit down under the shade of a mature cedar tree. To the north of the butte you notice the landscape transition from the rough badlands to rolling ash-timbered draws. On closer inspection you see mule deer, whitetail deer, sharptail grouse and even turkeys. As we turn our attention to the south we stop for a moment and notice a Mule Deer buck stand up out of his bed on the adjacent butte. After 10 seconds of studying, the old buck takes four bounds and disappears over the butte never to be seen again.
With our attention on the southern end of the parcel we see the landscape transition once again from the badlands down to a plateau of vast sagebrush fields. We notice a large herd of antelope in the middle of the largest field ready to stretch their legs if anything were to disturb their grazing. There has been one commonality across all the different landscapes that is impossible to overlook, this is first and foremost a cattle ranch. This is a ranch that has figured out how to make all these moving parts coincide with each other. 

A GIFT TO THE FUTURE
Kip and Adele Stenson first approached Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks about the possibility of an easement on their land several years ago.
“We sat down and talked about what it might look like in the end,” Kip recalled.
Horse Creek Easement, Kip Stenson, Conservation Easement, Dawson County, Wibaux County, Montana, FWP, Land Board
Photo courtesy Kip and Adele Stenson
The department immediately noted the value that these thriving landscapes provided both the wildlife and people in Dawson and Wibaux Counties.
“An easement of this size can stand on its own and provide habitat and security for generations to come,” says Melissa Foster, an FWP wildlife biologist based out of Baker.
The Stensons view the easement as a guarantee into the future for local family ranching out of Eastern Montana, a departure from the trend of cattle ranching growing larger and larger while pushing local families out.
“I hope that someday my grandchildren are able to drive down the hill to our ranch and see that this land is still providing the same benefits now that it was when their grandparents were ranching it,” says Adele.
The Horse Creek easement would be funded by Habitat Montana, a program that collects funding from hunting and fishing license purchases, earmarked specifically for conservation easements; and by the U.S.Department of Agriculture.
“Considering how much hunters and fishermen contribute to conservation, I am glad they will be able to enjoy the easement for years to come,” Kip says, referring to the easement’s public access guarantee.
When the easement is completed hunters will have access to over 15,000 acres that have previously been closed to public access.
“There is no doubt a void of public access in this area and in areas where public access is difficult it only increases the strain between landowners and the department when we aren’t able to manage the wildlife within those borders,” says Foster, of FWP.
Horse Creek Easement, Kip Stenson, Conservation Easement, Dawson County, Wibaux County, Montana, FWP, Land Board
Photo courtesy Kip and Adele Stenson
The easement is arising from a local collaborative effort between landowners and FWP. No single party will be able to claim they won the easement, but every party involved will be able to walk away from the table pleased with the positive outcome.
For the Stensons, it provides the long-term commitment to a ranching lifestyle that Adele’s parents instilled long ago during the family’s years spent on the Rocky Mountain front. For Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, the easement provides invaluable habitat and winter range for the wildlife in the area. For hunters, it provides hunting opportunities on almost 24 square miles of land. 
“When the Montana land board meets to vote on the easement we have agreed to with the Department, I hope they keep our private property rights in the back of their mind and not what they believe we should be able to do with our property rights,” Adele says.
Ranching in Eastern Montana is the foundation of our way of life. Montana has a golden opportunity to keep the status quo.
The Montana FWP Commission gave its unanimous approval to the Horse Creek Conservation Easement Feb. 15. Next, it needs a passing vote from Montana’s Land Board, consisting of Gov. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and Auditor Matt Rosendale. That vote is expected Feb. 20.
For more information on the Horse Creek Complex Conservation Easement, you can read the decision notice from the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks here:http://fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/conservationEasements/pn_0033.html
To comment on the Horse Creek Complex Conservation Easement, you can send an email to landboard@mt.gov
Contributed by Justin Schaaf. Justin is a hunter and conservationist whose roots in Eastern Montana stretch back to the turn of the last century. After growing up in Glendive, he is now raising his young family in Fort Peck near the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
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Montana Capitol, Helena