Pending legislation in Montana would affect water rights, elk hunting

Pending legislation in Montana regarding water rights and elk management may have an impact on agricultural producers in the state, a report on the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) website said, and some of these changes come as a direct result of off-season activity from the Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC).

WPIC is a bipartisan legislative committee charged with gaining a deeper understanding of water quality and quantity issued between legislative sessions.

One bill brought forward by the committee, sponsored by state Rep. Bob Brown (R-Thompson Falls), would make changes to laws that affect water rights, the report said.

Basically the bill would change current law so that a “change in appropriation right” won’t include changing the method of irrigation as a change in water use, the report said. The MFBF supports the amendment in the proposed bill, so that water right holders changing from flood to pivot irrigation will no longer be required to go through the lengthy change review process with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

“Historically, we’ve seen that when the change review process is triggered, the DNRC can reduce the number of acres you can irrigate, because it requires a reduction of acres with increased efficiencies or production,” MFBF said in the article.

Another bill brought forward from the WPIC committee would affect transfers of water rights as part of a real estate transaction. With the current legislation, often these water right transfer requests are held up by the Department of Revenue and the DNRC. The MFBF recognizes a need for a better system, but is concerned about the language of the new bill, House bill 49, which establishes the authority for a water judge or water master to terminate a water right when the proper paperwork is not completed, the article said. The MFBF has asked the legislature to remove any language that terminates water rights as a consequence.

A bill was brought by state Rep. Zach Brown (D-Bozeman), which was heard in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee, offers additional incentives for landowners that allow the public to hunt for elk under the FWP’s 454 program. The bill would offer a landowner one free private landowner elk tag for every four pubic hunters that hunt on that owner’s land. It would also let the landowner designate the earned free tag to a family member or full-time employee, the article said.

The MFBF said in the article that the current system isn’t perfect and that from a member standpoint, there is an increasingly overpopulated elk herd in the state that isn’t currently being managed properly. The MFBF would like to see stronger management tools from the FWP, but notes that this is a small step in the right direction, especially for landowners that are overrun with elk, the article said.

Organizations in this story

Montana Farm Bureau 502 South 19th, Ste 104 Bozeman, MT 59718

Get notified the next time we write about Montana Farm Bureau!