Feb 19, 2013 11:10 AM by Marnee Banks (Helena)
HELENA - Bus loads of hunters and anglers piled into the halls of the Capitol 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.
MT State Representative Kelly Flynn (R-Townsend) wants to take $1.2 million a year from the Habitat Montana account and transfer it to the block management program. The state would then use the money to pay private landowners who open up their land for public use.
MT State Rep Franke Wilmer (D-Bozeman) said, "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."
The bill passed in a 66 - 34 vote with a majority of Democrats opposing it.
However, the bill which everyone showed up for was House Bill 235, known as the "corner crossing" bill.
Right now more then 800,000 acres of public land are blocked off because they are surrounded by private land.
MT State Rep Ellie Hill's (D-Missoula) bill would allow someone to walk across the corner of private property to access public land.
Hill said "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."
MT State Rep. Jeffrey Welborn (R-Dillon) countered, "It's not about hopscotch. It's about trespassing onto private property."
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.
Outside the Capitol, Randy Newberg of the Headwaters Sportsmen Association said, "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."
Hill exhorted the crowd, "I will say it right here, civil disobedience. Get cited. Civil disobedience and a ballot initiative."
The organizers of the bus trip told us more than 300 sportsmen attended the event.