3/10/2023 update: Six days after the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a slew of other concerned conservation groups, ranchers and Montana citizens testified against a bill to limit the lengths of voluntary conservation agreements, the Montana legislative committee that heard the testimony, voted it down.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation joined landowners, ranchers, wildlife and forest groups – nearly two dozen total from across Montana – to testify against a bill that limits the lengths of voluntary conservation agreements (conservation easements) using state funds.
“RMEF opposes efforts to ban perpetual easements,” Jennifer Doherty, RMEF director of lands and access, testified before the Montana Senate Fish and Game Committee on February 21. “Conservation and development are both perpetual.”
RMEF holds 41 such agreements that protect thousands of acres of habitat used by elk and other wildlife in Montana.
Voluntary conservation agreements (VCAs) are exactly that – voluntary. Landowners willingly work with RMEF and other groups to protect the wildlife values of their land while keeping it in private ownership. Added benefits include keeping working lands in production and providing access or wildlife habitat benefits to all Montanans.
VCAs also help family ranchers pass land from one generation to the next. Short-term leases are a good tool for some private landowners, however perpetual agreements assure landowners generational exchanges and security.
“In the United States, property owners have the right to make long-term decision about their property and I would ask why we would limit those choices that are available to Montana landowners,” added Doherty.
After lengthy testimony and discussion, the committee did not vote whether to advance the bill but stated it will take executive action at a later date.
(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)