Montana Legislature Eyes National Heritage Area Designations
If a national heritage area designation were to occur in Montana, the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) believes any such proposal should first gain the support of the state legislature.
The Stockgrowers are backing a bill by Representative Josh Kassmier (R-Fort Benton) that would require just that. Evelyn Pyburn had this summary of HB 554 in the Big Sky Business Journal Hotsheet:
A bill of importance to property owners. It would require state legislative approval of any National Heritage Areas before they are designated by Congress. As a case in point Big Sky Country National Heritage Area would designate over 2 million acres of privately owned property in Cascade and Chouteau Counties. Management of the proposed BSCNHA would be vested in a private organization whose directors are not elected by or accountable to property owners within the boundaries. If a private citizen is unhappy with their decisions, he or she has no recourse.
The legislation comes about as concerns mount over the proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area (BSCNHA) near Great Falls (read more about that proposal below).
Raylee Honeycutt is the Natural Resources Director for MSGA. Honeycutt says NHA's are primarily composed of private land.
As it stands, land owners have no ability to remove their property from this designation. There has been significant opposition to include private property in the proposed BSCNHA designation, as it will be managed by a private, unelected, unaccountable entity. This bill will help to protect private property right owners for undue harm as a result of a designation.
Prior Report from December 4, 2020: Opposition Mounts to Big Sky Country Natl Heritage Area Proposal |
If you haven't checked out legendary Montana artist Charlie Russell's historic home in Great Falls, you definitely need to stop in and see it. It is right next to the CMR museum. The photo above gives you a look inside.
The Great Falls area is certainly home to some incredibly Montana and Western history, art, and culture that is worthy of national recognition. That's why when I see an effort to recognize the area for it's rich history, and also free up some funds to promote history and tourism in the area- it certainly sounds like a great idea at face value. But I also understand why so many local ranchers, landowners, local officials, and others would be opposed to it.
If you haven't heard of the proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area, there is an effort underway to create a national designation for the area. As KRTV reports:
NHAs are similar to national parks -- but there are significant differences. NHAs free up federal money to drive tourism and local economic partnerships in areas of the country with special historical significance. In Cascade County, there's the Missouri River, the Lewis and Clark Portage Road, and First People’s Buffalo Jump, among other already designated historical sites.
The NHA, if passed into law by Congress, would be the first of its kind in Montana, and one of 55 across the country.
Opposition has been mounting to the proposal, though, as ranchers, landowners, local officials, and others express concerns about the inclusion of private property in the boundaries of the NHA. The town of Belt, Montana, the Fergus County Commissioners, and two of the three Cascade County Commissioners have come out against the designation.
The Tri-State Livestock News had a big write-up on the controversy. While supporters of the NHA argue that the designation will have no impacts on private property rights, Cascade County Commissioner Jim Larson said this to TSLN:
“If this designation doesn’t have any impact on private land rights, like they say, and it is only to support historic sites and tourism, then why does it need to have a border? Why did we draw a line on a map?” he says.
Another Cascade County Commissioner, Joe Briggs, says he is opposed to the NHA due to the inclusion of private property. The third commissioner, Jane Weber, heads up the effort pushing for the heritage area.
(*By the way, keep an eye on our "Montana Talks with Aaron Flint podcast" page, or download our Montana Talks app on your smartphone. We spoke with Big Sandy rancher Dana Darlington for our full statewide hour of the show about this very topic.)
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