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 tester.senate.gov.