October 21, 2002                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

State Land Board approves introduction of land-banking bill

      The State Land Board voted unanimously Monday to support introduction of a bill to the 2003 Legislature that would promote public access and allow the land board to manage state lands more effectively. It would allow the land board to reduce the number of isolated parcels and acquire land that would be more valuable to the trust.
      "This legislation has been in the works for more than a year," said State Auditor John Morrison. "I'm pleased with the support this concept has received."
      Morrison said that the land-banking program will increase revenue to the school land trust by implementing a competitive bidding process, and help recreationists and landowners get the best use of the land.
      "In addition to producing revenue for the school land trust, our public lands provide great hunting, fishing and hiking for thousands of Montanans," Morrison said. "This bill promotes both of those goals."
      In August 2001, Morrison asked the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to meet with interested parties and develop land-banking legislation.
      The legislation would establish a "land-banking" process, allowing the land board to use proceeds from the sale of school trust lands to buy replacement lands under specified circumstances.
      It also includes a provision allowing lease holders of isolated parcels the opportunity to exchange other accessible lands for those isolated parcels rather than going through the sale process.
      The legislation was born out of a study on the accessibility of state trust lands commissioned by the State Auditor's Office. The study of land in 11 counties revealed that nearly 50 percent of Montana's school trust lands are wholly surrounded by private property. It also found that 10 percent of the land is surrounded by one private landowner, while 37 percent is surrounded by multiple private landowners. The project examined 866,674 acres or 17 percent of state school trust land.
      Land with one surrounding landowner brings minimal income to the school trust and typically limits or prevents public access to the land. In Wheatland County, 20 percent of state school trust land is surrounded by one private landowner. Fourteen percent of trust land in Lewis and Clark and Garfield counties is surrounded by one landowner.
      The accessibility study found that 49 percent of state trust lands do not have public access. The percentage varies greatly by county with non-accessible acreage as high as 78 percent in Treasure County.
      In Cascade County, 36 percent of state trust lands do not have public access. In Lewis and Clark County that number rises to 54 percent, and is 72 percent in Garfield County.
      "I appreciate the time and energy devoted to this project by land board staff and DNRC staff," Morrison said. "This cooperative effort will result in a win-win situation for everyone."