Feb 19, 2013 11:03 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - Bus loads of hunters and anglers piled into the halls of the Capitol in Helena on Monday to show lawmakers they are serious about access to public land.
They were sporting hunter orange and sitting quietly in the House gallery as lawmakers debated two bills involving public access to public land.
"This is an incentive program. And it benefits sportsmen and landowners in Montana," said Rep. Kelly Flynn (R-Townsend).
Flynn wants to take $1.2 million a year from the Habitat Montana account and transfer it to the block management program which the state would then use to pay private landowners who open up their land for public use.
"It's a bill that pits one good program against, Habitat Montana, from which the funds would come, against another good program which is block management," Rep. Frankie Wilmer (D-Bozeman) commented.
The bill passed in a 66-34 vote with a majority of Democrats opposing it.
But the measure which everyone showed up for was House Bill 235, also known as the corner crossing bill.
More than 800,000 acres of public land are blocked off in Montana because they are surrounded by private land and Rep. Ellie Hill's bill would allow someone to walk across the corner of private property to access public land.
"This must be done on foot. We're talking about hopscotch folks. Leaping from one public corner to the other and never touching the soil of a private property's land," Hill (D-Missoula) explained.
"It's not about hopscotch. It's about trespassing onto private property," said Rep. Jeffrey Welborn (R-Dillon).
The bill died on the House floor in a 45-54 vote. But for the men and women in orange they say not everyone is wealthy enough to own prime hunting ground, so they want the legislature to give them access to public land.
"Can a person be a property right advocate while denying your neighbor the use and enjoyment of their adjacent properties to the full extent provided by the law? I say no," Randy Newberg with the Headwaters Sportsmen Association stated.
"I will say it right here, civil disobedience. Get cited. Civil disobedience and a ballot initiative," Hill said.
The organizers of the bus trip told us more than 300 sportsmen attended the event on Monday.