Nov. 2, 2006                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

MORRISON TOURS TONGUE RIVER RANCH AS POSSIBLE ADDITION TO PUBLIC LANDS


      More Than 18,000 acres southwest of Miles City under consideration by State Land Board
      As a member of the State Land Board, Montana State Auditor John Morrison got his first look today at new state lands being considered under the recently-formed land banking program.
      “This is about public access to state lands and better returns for the trust,” said Morrison. “It’s exciting to see it finally happening.”
      Located 30 miles southwest of Miles City, the Tongue River Ranch lies along the north side of the Tongue River in a contiguous 18,544-acre block consisting of river bottom to rolling pine covered breaks. The ranch contains an incredible diversity of wildlife including whitetail deer, mule deer, antelope, Canada geese, turkey, ducks, upland birds, including sharp tails and pheasants.
      “As we continue to look at the benefits of land banking, it’s important to recognize the real, long-term value to these kinds of purchases,” said Morrison. “Each acquisition offers Montanans in that area a wonderful opportunity to access a great public resource.”
      Land banking involves selling isolated parcels and acquiring state trust lands (state land) to consolidate land holdings and increase public recreational use of state land while increasing revenue to the State School Trust Fund. Under the process, the Land Board can purchase key parcels of land that would permit public access, while removing state trust lands that are currently land-locked.
      Morrison proposed the concept of land banking in 2001 after he determined that nearly 50 percent of Montana’s school trust lands were wholly surrounded by private property, according to a study commissioned by the State Auditor’s Office. In 2003, the State Auditor’s Office and the Department of Natural Resources requested legislation to create the land banking process. Rules were written and adopted in September of 2004.
      Earlier this year, the state sold an 80-acre residential site in Kalispell for $6.4 million. In mid October, the state completed the first acquisition under land banking with the purchase of an 897-acre parcel of land adjoining Ulm-Pishkun State Park near Great Falls. The State Land Board is carefully examining transactions to ensure that every part of the state benefits under the new program.
      The State Land Board is made up of Montana’s top five statewide elected officials and is charged with managing state trust land resources to produce revenues for the State School Trust Fund while considering environmental factors and protecting the future income-generating capacity of the land.
      “Land banking makes sense for several reasons,” Morrison said. “It increases public access for hunters and recreationists and it allows landowners to consolidate their property while at the same time increasing revenue for the school trust fund.”