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By Jon Tester Over the last few months I’ve been following an issue that strikes a chord with a lot of folks here in Big Sky Country. It’s an issue that isn’t going away. In fact, it’s one that’s getting bigger as wealthy out-of-staters discover Montana and decide to buy up huge chunks of it for exclusive getaway homes. Let me be clear—owning and caring for private property is one of our greatest American rights. It is the foundation of Montana’s family farms and ranches, like the farm my grandparents homesteaded almost a century ago. I’m a big believer in private property rights. Where would we be today without that right? But I, like many others, have a problem with folks from other places buying up agricultural land, fencing it off and locking it up forever. That land is available only to an exclusive club of elite and blocked to the workaday Montanan who pays his dues to the state and understands the western value of sharing the landscape with fellow Montanans. What used to be traditional hunting and fishing grounds for generations are fast becoming off limits for ordinary Montanans looking to put some meat and fish on the table.

Wealthy Out-of-Staters and Montanans’ Access to Land

Fellow Montanans and Future Montanans:

Over the last few months I’ve been following an issue that strikes a chord with a lot of folks here in Big Sky Country. It’s an issue that isn’t going away. In fact, it’s one that’s getting bigger as wealthy out-of-staters discover Montana and decide to buy up huge chunks of it for exclusive getaway homes.

Let me be clear—owning and caring for private property is one of our greatest American rights. It is the foundation of Montana’s family farms and ranches, like the farm my grandparents homesteaded almost a century ago. I’m a big believer in private property rights. Where would we be today without that right?

But I, like many others, have a problem with folks from other places buying up agricultural land, fencing it off and locking it up forever. That land is available only to an exclusive club of elite and blocked to the workaday Montanan who pays his dues to the state and understands the western value of sharing the landscape with fellow Montanans. What used to be traditional hunting and fishing grounds for generations are fast becoming off limits for ordinary Montanans looking to put some meat and fish on the table.

Out-of-state developers are buying up large ranches across our state with plans to subdivide them and sell lots as “trophy properties.” I can see why wealthy folks are intrigued by the idea of buying pieces of rural Montana for vacation getaways. I have to admit, the glossy pamphlets advertising those properties are nice.

But ordinary Montanans don’t live in fancy log homes and properties showcased in glossy pamphlets. They work hard, build their communities, and put their kids through school hoping they can stay here to enjoy what is so special about Montana.

I want to extend a warm welcome to all people who want to call Montana home. We’re among the luckiest folks in the world, and we’re not an exclusive club. Enjoying, accessing and working the land is fundamental to our heritage.

Remember how easy it used to be to ask a landowner for permission to hunt and fish on private property? Even beforeMontana was a state, hunters and fishermen have respectfully used their neighbors’ land. If you’re lucky enough to take an elk from your neighbor’s property, you might give him a backstrap. That’s the Montana Way.

Gallatin County, which has seen some of the fastest growth in the state, has a Code of the New West for folks who purchase rural land. The Code is available online, and I encourage everyone concerned about this issue to read it.

The Code of the New West outlines the realities of living in the rural West. It reminds newcomers that Montanans are respectful of property, and that the Great Outdoors belong to everyone.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue. Feel free to give my office a call, toll-free in Montana, at 866-554-4403.

Jon Tester is a Democratic senator from Montana. Visit his Website at

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  1. Dear Senator Testor:

    I received the following message from the TRCP:

    On Friday, July 27th, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2419, The Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007, commonly called the Farm Bill. As you know, this legislation represents the single greatest federal investment in conservation on private land. Over the course of many months, the collective voice of grassroots partners like you communicated the importance of a strong conservation title in the Farm Bill to those on Capitol Hill. Thank you for taking the time to make your voice heard; the results of your efforts are many positive elements in the conservation title of the House-passed bill.

    Considering the current tight budget climate, we were fortunate to get many conservation programs reauthorized at previous levels and even see some increases and new funding. Positive elements in the House Farm Bill include:

    “Open Fields” Open Fields is now included in a Farm Bill for the very first time and is one step closer to becoming a reality. This provision provides $20 million in funding to states enabling them to enhance or create state public access programs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that the number one reason for the decline in hunting and fishing activities is lack of access. This will go a long way toward slowing this disturbing trend.
    Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) & Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) Restored Both WRP and GRP enter this new Farm Bill with no baseline funding. If new money is not found, then both programs face elimination. The House Farm Bill restores funding for WRP at 3.6 million acres and GRP at 1 million acres.

    Increased funding for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) EQIP is the USDA’s primary cost-share program for assisting farmers and ranchers seeking to meet conservation needs for soil, water, wetlands, and wildlife on working lands. The House bill increases EQIP by $1.1 billion over the next five years.

    The 2007 Farm Bill now moves to the Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, where efforts are already under way to draft its own version. The same budgetary challenges present during the House process will also heavily influence the Senate. TRCP and the members of its Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group (AWWG) are looking forward to working closely with the senators and their staff to improve upon the good foundation for conservation laid in the House.

    TRCP will also continue to engage sportsmen and -women like you and keep you informed on the latest developments. Thanks to your efforts, we have made significant progress so far. With your enduring help, we can continue to influence the debate and grow conservation in the Farm Bill.
    <<<<<<< Senator Tester, regarding the Open Fields funding of $20 million, how about you lead the charge to increase it to at least $200 Million? Public sportsman everywhere, including Montana, would be greatful. Recently, Charlie Lincoln's prized ranch property on the Maria just west of the Shelby golf course has come up for consideration with Charlie's death. I believe his property is worth something like $10 million on its own. Your help in respecting Charlie's wishes that the public have access for generations to come would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  2. I wonder how much of the growth in Montana, and the growth in Montana’s economy is from money earned elsewhere being spent in Montana? If there is much of an impact of out of state earned money coming to Montana to buy real estate, build McMansions, decorate with locally sold furnishings, that is the economy that works when you stop natural resource use. A natural resource based economy is limited by the available resource, and will limit the number of people in an area. The amenity and service economy has to grow every year to survive, because service jobs are low paying and the service job employees usually cannot afford the services provided. That is one of the engines that is driving the illegal alien problem. The old hook tender would have explained that as a “wipin’ your fanny with a hoop” situation. The more it goes around, the more unpleasant it gets.

    If running cows that produce an annual gross income of $200,000 on a ranch some idjut from New Yawk wants to buy for $4 million makes sense, then run cows. If the net income is important, the rancher should take a hard look at what a ranch sale will bring before the Democrats fail to renew the capital gains tax relief, because that is the day that the whole rich guy with money deal will start to fall apart. The Trust Puppy class, and the New Rich will have less in their pockets to spend, the investments will be less enticing, and a Motel 6 on the interstate will start to look like a good deal.

    Private land retreats are not a new thing. Neither are large estates, or farms, or ranches. Call them what they are called in their place, they are still a big pile of private land reserved for the owners use. They also provide arable, low elevation open space and refuge for wildlife that small parcels do not. If you don’t want small parcel subdivision without attention paid to wildlife, sewer and water issues, and now wildfire issues, then that is what local government is all about. States rights. Not a Federal answer to a local problem. Senator Tester has stepped right into the Democrat Big Government traces, and is ready to pull his share to punish initiative and private property rights. What’s new? If there is a problem locally that needs to be solved, solve it at the county level, with representation elected by the folks who live there all year long, who have to make a living there. If a developer can have exclusive CC&R’s, then a county can have county wide zoning for exclusive farm use, timber reserve, non-developable high value farm lands, whatever. The problems should be solved by the people who have to live with the solutions. The USFS won’t engage in land trades or exchanges where they don’t get rights of way or access across private lands. A county most certainly must be able to not allow subdivision without surrender of access to public lands if they are so inclined. Hold an election. Entertain a petition. This is a democracy, ruled by state constitutions, county charters. Be creative and fair, and the public good can be attained.

  3. How scary it is to find out ~ straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak ~ that a Senator representing The Great State of Montana ~ with such a grand and glorious history as part of the Old West ~ speaks now from padded pulpit to disclaim those deep roots of individualism and wishes to promote anything other than the capitalistic nature of the society that created the so-called “New West” that he wishes to represent!

    ” … reminds newcomers that Montanans are respectful of property, and that the Great Outdoors belong to everyone” ???

    I see.

    Are we to actually believe that the Human Nature of any person living in Montana for a year OR a hundred of them varies from that of people living anywhere else? Have we not read volumes here on the New West Network regarding the lack of respect for both public and private property by people from Montana ~ displayed in the same exact manner as it is in other states from coast to coast?

    ONLY that portion of “the Great Outdoors” that is owned by The Public “belong(s) to everyone”!!! Privately owned property does NOT.

    Those who wish to jump on board Tester’s bandwagon ought to first do a little bit of research and exploration world-wide to discover the extreme value of our right to own and use private property as citizens of this great Nation. That right ONLY exists in the USA and when it is either diminished or extinguished it will be our children and our grandchildren who will pay the huge price for our lack of stewardship and our unwillingness to defend those rights!

    To let the green monster AKA jealousy of those who have more than we do rise to strike down that right to own and use private property would be a terrible sin perpetrated against ourselves and our descendants!!!

    The Good News IS that each and every one of us can strive to duplicate the wealth of those we envy ~ IF we fight to preserve the basic principles of this Nation that allows us to do so.

    Yes, these words are being typed by a person who remembers how hard we fought in earlier years to prevent Soviet communism ~ a form of socialism that abolishes private ownership ~ from taking over our Nation.

    Have we forgotten?

    Memories too short can lead to our demise too soon.

    … or so it seems to me.

  4. Rose Mary, always interesting to have you weigh in on a topic. Perhaps I’m the Polyanna on this one, but I don’t see anything (yet!) that is particulary malevolent in Senator Testor’s column. In fact I’m please that there is someone who understand’s the danger of the Ted Turnerization of the West that ties up prime real estate for his pals and excludes the public that previous had permission rights to hike, fish, and hunt from land owners. In no way am I suggesting, and I don’t see it in the Senator’s column and restrictions or prohibitions that would interfer with a person’s property rights. Rather, I see it as an opportunity for government to compete on bahalf of the public and incentivize land owners to allow reasonable ingress and egress with other enjoyment experiences. In Montana we have the Block Mangement Program that does just that without otherwise interferring in a landowner’s normal and customary property rights. A landowner can withdraw at his discretion. However, the state funds from license fees are not nearly enough as there are way more landowners who want to join Block Management than funds allow. I’m giving Senator Tester the benefit of the doubt on this one as I believe he is drawing from his Montana farm experience. As I see it now that the Senator is engaged and publicly stated his attention to the issue, how much is the Senator willing to commit to working with landowners to secure permission use of private by the public? The $20 million in the Farm Bill passed by the House for Open Spaces is not nearly enough. He should commit to raising it to $200 million. Just my opinion.

  5. Sorry! I seem to have extreme stumble fingers today. Many typos in my previous comment.

  6. And, as always, I certainly respect your opinion, Craig.

    I did not intend to imply that the sky IS falling … but I did intend to warn that we must all be very careful to monitor *every* word spoken by *every* politician who has the power to erode our private property rights. Those rights are as important to the person who wants to own property ~ or wants their children and grandchildren to be able to do so ~ as they are to those of us who do ~ at whatever level our financial capacity might allow us to do so.

    Historically, it is that word “PERMISSION” that must be remembered.

    Private property owners who might decide to give their PERMISSION ~ for whatever reason or incentive ~ or who are WILLING sellers of their property will always have my support. Those are decisions that every private property owner now has and the right to continue to make those decisions regarding our own privately-owned property is what we MUST fight to retain.

    If Tester’s intent is to achieve that goal then my suspicions about his intent are inaccurate and he will be most deserving of an apology from me, which I would be more than happy to give. Unfortunately, at this time, I am not reading such an intent into his written words above.

  7. Rose Mary, we are in agreement. I did have one disappointment with the senator’s column. He invites us to call his office rather than him remaining engaged to respond to the comments posted here. He chose the forum, and I think he should take the time to repay the courtesy to those that take the time to respond to HIS important issue here at New West. I guess there is always the possibility that some staffer, not Senator Tester, wrote this column and he may not even know of it existences or content. By calling the office number the person on the other end is a staffer. I hope this column reflects Senator Tester’s views and he will return to have a real Net discussion about the Farm Bill, Open Spaces, the Ted Turnerization of the West, respecting private property rights, and what his approach will be.

  8. I’d give kudos, first, for Senator Tester’s appearance on New West, and hopes that he will come back with another column in the future. I’ve written a column or two and it’s hard work.

    Second, changing the tax structure to ease the inheritance of family farms is a critical piece of preserving that part of Montana. Part of the reason Gallatin passed two Open Space bond issues is to purchase development rights and help estate planning. We could do a lot more if that issue were off the table.

    I admit we don’t buy access either, but keeping that agricultural component in Gallatin is critical environmentally and socially.

    Access to Federal lands is the third point I’d make. Like the state, the feds need to have a program to purchase access to landlocked federal lands. It makes a great private reserve for hunting, sure, but federal lands, which aren’t leased out, are really that part of the “great outdoors” that does belong to everyone. They should not be anyone’s private reserve.

    The folks at trust for public lands are my touchstone for these issues, Senator. I hope you’ll use them for advice as well.

  9. Jeff, a similar letter appeared in the Flathead Beacon. Seems somewhat toned down from the rhetoric that begins with the title of the New West column.

    Rereading the New West Tester column and thinking about the multimillion dollar estate Governor Schweitzer is building on Georgetown Lake, I have to wonder what Senator Tester thinks about the “ordinariness” of the governor as a Montanan, and I have to wonder what the governor thinks about the rhetoric of Senator Testor’s column that condems the type of development that put use and enjoyment out of reach for most Montanans. See the New West article:

  10. I have the tee shirt that says “I wasn’t born in Montana, but got here as quick as I could.” I bought it a dozen years ago, and still am proud of the fact I came. And Montana is full and filling more with those of us who appreciate her natural beauty and open spaces. Is that a good thing? I think not, but it’s a fact. But the fact is, those born here might be just a little jaded and might not appreciate her as much as do those who come from areas once open but now jammed with humanity…if you can call it that. The reality is large land owners protect large blocks for wildlife, and subdivision precludes wildlife, even if in twenty acre blocks. And large land owners shouldn’t be lumped with subdividers, as they are generally a different breed. Even some of those who change their stripes, who made money elsewhere as land developers, want to protect large blocks of Montana. Montana hasn’t done a particularly good job in recognizing and protecting her resource…you only have to fly over Montana to see more cut roads than any state in the west, and far more clear cuts than most. Yes, private property rights are critical, but misuse of land, private or public, is a sacrilege and violation of a higher authority. Even the Montana constitution recognizes the right to a clean environment. Remember, we only hold land in trust, no matter what a “deed” says, and ownership is temporary, one lifetime, or one family control, and seldom do you see the centinial celebration on the family farm or ranch. Should any man, with a paltry 75 year lifespan, be allowed to cut down a 4,000 year old redwood? Or even a five hundred year old ponderosa or cedar? I think not. Even the use of private land is limited, and that’s as it should be. The common cliche is that growth is good, but the fact is that growth in terms of population is not good, not good for Montana, and not good for the world–the world had one billion or so folks in 1900, and now has 6.5 billion. At that rate we’ll “enjoy” 36 billion by the end of this century. Growth in productivity is good, the only real growth, not growth in numbers. I’ve been denied hunting access to large land holdings, but not because of the fact it’s an outside/out-of-state landowner, likely because of the fact I’m bringing a west side truck to an east side ranch, from a west side riddled with knap weed, no matter how much I steam clean the truck before heading east. Let’s solve our own Montana problems before blaming them on interlopers. Stop exploiting the national forests, stop, with proper zoning, exploiting open land, yes private land, in favor of growth for growth’s sake. Recognize what attracts outsiders to Montana, and protect her with zoning and open space laws, and those and only those will stop hit-and-run interlopers…stop trying to reduce her to the common denominator of California, Arizona, and Texas.

  11. LJ, one of the hottest real estate markets is trophy hunting and fishing properties. Cabelas even started their Cabelas Trophy Properties unit to participate in the land rush. For Montana see:

  12. In addition, the Montana FWP has recognized the problem and produced a video entitled ‘Owning Eden.’ See:

    I got a copy of it from Alan Charles at the FWP. He might have a few left.

  13. So very much of what you have written, L. J. Martin, are thoughts and feelings that I share about The West we love.

    However, whenever we decide to turn over the care and management of our wide open spaces to ~ rather than trying to encourage a more loving ready-willing-&-able care and management within the private sector I think we make a huge mistake. has proven itself to be one of the poorest managers of *anything* in my not-so-humble opinion.

    Can the private sector do better? Of course it can! And that will always be the case even if each and every one of us is trying-harder to improve every day we live. “Doing better” is a lifetime goal for each of us.

    But as you say, population growth is what creates the demand for the use of land in order to house that population. Those who want to blame development on “the developers” are not being realistic in that regard since I know of no so-called-“developer” who will do so without a waiting-in-the-wings market for the smaller parcels of land and/or the homes built on them.

    The only country that I know of who has been able to show any progress at all in the curtailment of their national population is China. I seriously doubt their techniques for doing so would be very acceptable in the USA. And even though our home-grown national population may have receded to “replacement” numbers, those numbers seemingly have little, if any, impact on our total population numbers that are ever-increasing.

    Yes. There ARE better ways to introduce new planning methods and goals within our existing communities and/or new ones that appear as time goes by; and, I guess could try to make everyone willing to build right on top ~ literally! ~ of those now living throughout The West. But I do doubt that would be acceptable to most who want to live in The West or those who are living here now!

    So I might suggest that very little of “growth” is “for growth’s sake”.

    Most growth is “for people’s sake” ~ all those people that are the ones constantly increasing those population numbers you have referenced in your posting.

    I hear you saying that people should “Recognize what attracts outsiders to Montana .. ” ~ all the while suggesting that they have no place to live when they arrive? Perhaps I am wrong, but that sounds a whole-big-bunch like the “NIMBY” theory.

    Perhaps you really meant to say that people should recognize what attractED outsiders SUCH AS YOURSELF to Montana and that Montana should NOW be sure the gates are locked?

    I certainly have no magic answers. But assigning everything as far as the eye can see to or expecting current and future population increases not to impact The West would not seem to form desirable or realistic perimeters.

    … or so it seems to me.

  14. Good article Senator Tester. Yes private lands and ranches are being purchased but why? They want to control access to public lands over the fence and control wildlife esp. big game and upland birds for exclusive hunting for the ‘right people’ on the pvt and public lands.The latest is CABELA’s a company made famous with purchases from the average sportsmen. Now CABELA’S in the real estate business and Trophy Properties. Look at the Dovetail Ranch. They want the BLM and state leases as well and not in a real livestock business. Don’t give them the grazing privileges BLM and DNRC they are not in the livestock business it’s a front to control public land and the wildlife on the PUBLIC land and PVT land. Look at the 11 pages of real estate on CABELA’s site just for Montana. Contact the Lewistown BLM office. Don’t buy from CABELA’s buy locally and/or Bass Pro Shop.
    This is the trend out of state wants MONTANA public land and the wildlife on public land as well. It’s a wildlife and land grab. Look at Georgetown Lake being destroyed with out of state devel. Look at Badger Bay! Who is enforcing Montana’s environmental laws? Nobody………………. why?

  15. I have a bumper sticker not a tee shirt, couldn’t find one, “NATIVE MONTANAN”. Have you ever thought why people from out of state come here? The state they left has been all screwed up. They seem to think they know more about our state then us who have lived here all our lives and fought to protect the resources ,fought for public land access,fought losses of wildlife habitat,fought to get bills thorough signed into law for us to use our public state land ,stream access,fought to acquire elk winter range and the list goes on. Think what you did for the state you left for the resource when you came here? Montana has more than most states thanks to us NATIVE MONTANANS who fought for what we have now and its a free ride for the out of staters now most in the real estate business and trying to block us from using our public land and access to our public fish and wildlife resource.Now we are fighting overdevelopment and loss of fish and wildlife habitat the battle continues and native Montanans are leading it as usual.