Montana Board of Land Commissioners

Summary

The Montana Board of Land Commissioners, which is composed of five statewide elected officials, generates “millions of dollars annually for K-12 public education” by overseeing “5.2 million acres of state trust land” for “forestry, agriculture, grazing and energy leasing,” as well as recreation, including hunting, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. “Although the Land Board is made up of partisan officials, politics has traditionally taken a back seat to the long-term interests of raising money for schools through state lands and the obligation of ensuring greater access for the public.” Its elected members are Governor Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, Auditor Matthew Rosendale, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen.

[Source: Montana Board of Land Commissioners, accessed 11/19/18]

Over the past five years, the Board has made a number of decisions on easements, expansions, expansions, and land swaps to benefit oil, gas and mining interests. In the same period, the Board has opposed permanent conservation easements. Notably, board member Matt Rosendale supports transferring federal public lands to the state of Montana.

[Sources:The Montana Free Press, 05/23/18; Billings Gazette, 03/18/14; Helena Independent Record, 02/21/18; The Montana Standard, 10/24/17; and The Missoulian, 04/19/14]

Notable Activities and Statements on Public Lands Policy

Current board-member Steve Bullock has voted to approve a controversial easement for the Keystone XL Pipeline and to approve a controversial coal lease.

Current Montana Board of Land Commissioners member Steve Bullock once voted to approve easements to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to cross state-owned land. The Montana Land Board, in December 2012, “approved easements to let the Keystone XL pipeline cross state-owned land, including the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. The Land Board chaired by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, running his last meeting before leaving office, sold the package of 50-year easements to TransCanada for $741,000.”

“The board…voted 5-0 to grant TransCanada right-of-way on state lands.” The only person who is on the board today who was on the board at the time is Steve Bullock. [The Montana Free Press, 05/23/18]

Current Montana Board of Land Commissioners member Steve Bullock voted to lease 570 million acres of state-owned coal in the Otter Creek Valley. The Montana Land Board, in 2009, “voted 4-1…to lease 570 million tons of state-owned…coal in the Otter Creek Valley, over the objections of environmental groups and some area landowners. Many opponents gave impassioned speeches against leasing the coal, saying it will bring environmental harm to the valley and adjoining river basins.” The Otter Creek coal tracts border the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. The only person who is on the board today who voted for or against this lease in 2009 is Steve Bullock, who “voted to lease the coal.” [The Montana Standard, 12/21/09]

Bullock later voted against granting the lease to Arch Coal after the minimum bid price was lowered. [Billings Gazette, 03/18/10]

Current Montana Board of Land Commissioners members Steve Bullock and Tim Fox voted to double the size of Montana’s only underground coal mine and to approve controversial land swaps.

Current Board Members Steve Bullock and Tim Fox voted to expand the coal mine over community concerns about impacts to water and wildlife. In 2014, “the Montana Land Board unanimously approved the 7,160-acre expansion of Signal Peak’s coal mine,” which added “nine years to the mine’s life.” The expansion doubled the “size of the state’s only underground coal mine, owned by Ohio-based Signal Peak Energy.” The board at the time was composed of Attorney General Tim “Fox, Gov. Steve Bullock, Secretary of State Linda McCullough, State Auditor Monica Lindeen and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau.”

“Community members raised concerns that mine expansion could impact area water and wildlife. State agencies concluded the impacts were insignificant.” [Billings Gazette, 03/18/14]

Current Montana Land Board members Tim Fox and Steve Bullock voted for controversial land swaps in 2016. In August 2016, the state Land Board unanimously “approved a controversial land swap involving a pair of historic downtown Helena buildings.” The board “OK’d the multi-million-dollar deal, which…[saw] the state acquire a roughly 23,000-square-foot warehouse near the Helena Regional Airport in exchange for the state-owned National Guard Armory and Old Liquor Warehouse.” The swap “attracted attention from critics who questioned the move’s cost and expressed concern about preserving the historic state-owned buildings.” [Helena Independent Record, 08/16/16]

In December 2016, “the Montana Land Board voted unanimously…to approve a controversial land swap between a private company and the state near Twin Bridges. Swift River Investments (formerly the Seidensticker Ranch and Hamilton Ranches), offered 861.28 acres of land in Madison County and Butte-Silver Bow County, including 111 acres on the Big Hole River and 750 acres that will improve access to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.” [The Missoulian, 12/22/16]

The Montana Land Board “indefinitely” postponed a conservation easement out of concern that it could make oil and gas development more difficult.

The Montana Land Board, in February 2018, voted to “indefinitely” postpone a 15,000-acre Horse Creek Conservation Easement out of concern that it could make oil and gas development more difficult. “On a split vote” in February 2018 “the Montana State Board of Land Commissioners indefinitely postponed a decision on an eastern Montana conservation easement that…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…unanimously approved the 15,000-acre Horse Creek Conservation Easement between the Stenson family and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks” and “put a final decision before the Land Board,” which “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.” [Helena Independent Record, 02/21/18]

Conservationists supported the easement.“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.” [Helena Independent Record, 02/21/18]

Montana Board of Land Commissioners member Matt Rosendale “thwarted” an easement that “would have protected” wildlife habitat and water rights.

Board member Matt Rosendale “thwarted” Whitehall area easement proposal. “State Land board member Matt Rosendale torpedoed the Keogh Conservation Easement proposal at the September [2017] Land Board meeting. Three generations of Keogh Ranch family, 10 miles north of Whitehall, have always allowed recreational use of their property and worked around the large numbers of elk, deer and antelope on their extensive ranch,” and “the Keogh Conservation Easement Proposal included access to adjoining Forest Service and BLM lands recreational uses which would be available into perpetuity. […] All groups at the hearing including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Jefferson Valley Sportsmen’s Association and the DNRC, as well as others, were in favor of the proposal.”

“If the Keogh Conservation Easement would have been accepted by the Land Board, it would have protected key elk, deer and antelope habitat as well as water rights and existing agricultural uses forever. Now, existing and future generations of recreationists will be the biggest losers,” Schoonen wrote. [The Montana Standard, 10/24/17]

Board members Elsie Arntzen and Corey Stapleton also voted against the easement. “In a 3-2 vote, the Board of Land Commissioners voted it down…despite concerns of encroaching development near the ranch. Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox both voted for the” easement plan. In addition to Matt Rosendale, Elsie Arntzen and Corey Stapleton voted against it. [The Montana Standard, 12/27/17]

Montana Board of Land Commissioners Corey Stapleton opposes permanent conservation easements and some land purchases.

Montana Land Board member Corey Stapleton opposes permanent conservation easements. State Land Board member Corey “Stapleton indicated his opposition to easements that go into perpetuity, saying they unfairly saddle future generations with permanent restrictions.” [Helena Independent Record, 03/20/18]

Corey Stapleton said the land board should not be “dinking around buying private working farms.” Corey Stapleton wrote, “The current Land Board is dinking around buying private working farms, and attempting to permanently lock up privately-owned lands forever,’ Stapleton wrote. ‘Not only is this an inappropriate focus for the Land Board, but it generates less money, disrupts real estate markets and shortchanges public school funding.'” [Helena Independent Record, 03/20/18]
Montana Board of Land Commissioners member Matt Rosendale supports the transfer of federal public lands to states.

Matt Rosendale called for the federal government to “transfer U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in Montana to the state to manage and control.” He said he was “working on the idea with the American Lands Council.”

Matt Rosendale said, “‘the U.S. Constitution clearly defines the purpose for the federal government to retain land for post offices, batteries and things like that,’ Rosendale said. ‘There is no call in the Constitution for the federal government to own national forests or BLM land and just to manage those additional lands.'”

He continued, “‘If we were able to manage and control those lands, we would be able to generate much more economic development opportunities,’ Rosendale said. ‘We would be able to harvest a lot of that timber, we’d be able to acquire the minerals that are located in those areas and once again utilize the economic opportunities that are located in there.’ He said the federal government is losing money managing federal lands in states. The federal government is denying access for recreation, compromising air quality by not allowing logging, which leads to forest fires, and hurting fisheries as well. ‘It’s economically unfriendly, environmentally unfriendly and adverse to the Constitution,’ he said.”

Rosendale “said he’s been working on the idea with the American Lands Council.”

“Rosendale’s proposal wouldn’t affect Glacier National Park or other National Park Service lands, national monuments or Indian reservations.” [The Missoulian, 04/19/14]