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Knokey's House Bill 498: Unlocking 1.5 Million Acres for Public Use

Full Text of Testimony:

My name is Jon Knokey and I have the good fortune to represent Bozeman. 

Like each of you I believe that Montana is God’s chosen property. But she is an enigma. Each of us are left in awe by the rivers cut from the great flood, mountains that are steps to the celestial, a sky that slips the surly bonds of the horizon, prairies that are fathomless, and woods that are dark and deep.

We use this land to learn the four-count rhythm with a fly road, teach our daughter’s how to shoot a .30-06 and to give our grandfather’s one last time to instill a life lesson.

Montana and her beauty is to be used and conserved, protected and accessed.

I bring before you today HB 498.

The objective of the bill is to extend the sunset provision on our Unlock Public Lands Program.

This program provides an incentive based approach, allowing land owners to choose to enter into the program and receive a credit on their taxes for each access they provide to “land locked” parcels of State and Federal Land. Landowners are incentivized to allow the public access to otherwise inaccessible land for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, hiking or other forms of outdoor recreation.

The Department estimated that there are roughly 1.5 million acres of sacred public land across the state that is considered land locked. 1.5M acres.

Supporters include: Montana Sportsmen’s Alliance, Montana Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Montana Shooting Sports Association, Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, United Property Owners of Montana, Stock Growers Association, and Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks.

This program brought all the parties together, the public, the landowners, and the department, into agreement on a solution to increase access to land locked areas all while protecting the property rights of landowners.

This program which passed the house 97-3 in 2015 has had a rocky start. It only has two landowners using this program. Just 2.

The FWP admits that this program has not been advertised or promoted well – most land owners do not know about its existence. Also, it was only expanded to federal land last session, and the individual responsible for the administration of the program retired around the time of year when landowners applied to be a part of the program. This was in the spring.

We must extend the sunset that will expire before our next legislative session. I ask that we vote yes to show our resolve to make this program work into posterity. And then we get to work in the interim to amend, change and enhance this program to ensure that we protect our sacred outdoor heritage.

Let’s send a clear signal that public access while protecting property rights is something that this legislative body will fight for.


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