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Montana may sell 7,200 acres of state land

PUBLIC LANDS -- Montana is considering the sale of 7,280 acres of its lands in northeastern Montana’s Daniels County, 49 tracts ranging from 5 to 360 acres, according to the Billings Gazette.

“Over the years, landowners and others in Daniels County have urged the Department (of Natural Resources and Conservation) to initiate sale of lands due to the large amount of state land in the western half of the county,” Hoyt Richards, Glasgow Unit manager for the DNRC’s Trust Land Management Division, wrote in an email. 

Roughly half of western Daniels County is in state ownership, designated as a large block of blue lands on maps. The state land piled up in Daniels County by a quirk of fate. When the federal government granted states every section 16 and 36 in each township to be held in trust for educational purposes, areas such as national parks and reservations were excluded.

Read on for more of the story by Gazette Outdoors reporter Brett French.

To make up for these exclusions, lands were granted to the state in other areas. Daniels County currently has 220,321 acres of state land, the largest on a percentage basis in Montana. Other counties, such as Beaverhead and Chouteau, have more state land, in terms of acreage. But Daniels has the most percentagewise. Almost one-quarter of the entire county is state owned.

The parcels chosen for possible sale were nominated by state land lessees following a query by the DNRC. All but three of the nominated parcels are currently being leased for grazing or agriculture. The going rate for the leases is $6.23 per animal unit month or at a crop share basis of about 25 percent.

“The Department considered all sale nominations received from lessees in Daniels County,” Richards wrote. “The Department selected a subset of nominated parcels to forward for analysis under the Montana Environmental Policy Act. The Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) will review the nominations and public comment and select lands to offer for sale.”

Although 7,280 acres sounds like a big sale, Richards said the amount was only moderate compared to some previous state land sales.

The state was authorized by the 2003 Legislature to sell parcels of land provided the funds raised were used to purchase other lands for the public, a process called land banking. The statute placed limits on the amount of school trust land that could be sold -- no more than 250,000 acres, 75 percent of which must be isolated parcels. All told, the state manages about 5.2 million acres of trust land.

According to Richards, only three of the nominated parcels do not have legal access and are surrounded by private land and two other tracts may not have legal access.  Even if sold, the state retains mineral rights to the properties and access if it is deemed necessary to reach other state lands.

DNRC is planning to present the proposed parcels to the Land Board in either December or January, Richards said. Public comment on the proposed sale is taken until Nov. 25. If approved for sale, the lands would be appraised and then brought back to the board to establish a minimum bid price and a final OK. A notice is then sent to a list of interested parties, and an ad is placed in the county newspaper for four weeks. A notice is also on DNRC’s website. The Land Board is composed of five members, the governor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, attorney general and commissioner of securities and insurance.

So far, DNRC has received no comments on the proposed sale.

For more information on land banking, or to read a list of the properties proposed for sale, see the links in this story.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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