The Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) is celebrating a big win for private property rights with Governor Greg Gianforte’s signing of House Bill 554. This law, signed Friday, will require the Montana Legislature’s approval of National Heritage Areas (NHA) and National Trail Designation in Montana prior to a National Designation.
In recent months, MSGA worked with Representative Josh Kassmier, of Fort Benton, to find a solution to address the concerns of many private property owners across Montana regarding the proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area (BSCNHA), an area encompassing all of Cascade County and parts of Chouteau and Lewis and Clark County.
“We would like to thank Governor Gianforte for signing this bill into law. This issue affects thousands of landowners in this state. While national heritage areas are intended to be a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development, we have not seen this approach with the proposed project,” shared Jim Steinbeisser, MSGA President. “Landowners are concerned about how their private property will be affected related to the proposed Big Sky National Heritage Area and many feel the process has not been transparent.”
“This law will provide accountability and give Montanans, by way of the Montana Legislature, a say in which areas are approved designations,” said Representative Kassmier, HD 27.
During the bill’s hearings widespread support was shown in testimony from agricultural organizations, county commissioners, realtor associations, and builder organizations. Additionally, over 20 organizations have passed resolutions or policies in non-support of the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area.
“MSGA members are the reason this law now exists. Member-driven policy was brought to our organization this past year with a concern regarding private property rights. Once we adopted policy, we went to work on behalf of our membership. This bill is a perfect example of how MSGA leads and works to bring legislation to benefit Montana ranching families,” added Steinbeisser.
National Heritage Areas and National Historic Trails are designated by the United States Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources form a nationally important landscape. Proposed boundaries for areas and trail designations can include federal, state, and private property. Currently, there are no NHAs in Montana.