Public Lands Are More Important Than Ever


Colter Upton, '20

As Montanans we have culture that is different from most. We are deeply rooted in our traditions weather that be hunting, fishing, biking or any other form of outdoor recreation. Undoubtedly, the key aspect toward our love for adventure is a place to do it. We are blessed to have so many opportunities to recreate through Montana’s public land. Throughout the state, there is over 33 million acres of public land. That’s just under 33 acres per capita! The opportunities that this land holds is endless.

Hunting is among the most popular form of recreation on state lands. There are national forests, BLM’s, wildlife production areas and even privately managed huntable land know as BMA’s. Of Montana’s public land 99% of it is open to hunting. This comes as a pleasure for many residents. Nowadays the struggle to find permission from private landowners is growing. Wth more and property being leased out to guides and an ever growing amount of landowners having bad relations with past hunters it is quite difficult for one to hunt on private land. But thankfully for us, we have been granted with so much land and very little regulations regarding it.

In addition to dry land, Montana is one of only three states to still implement the “high water mark” rule. This allows any person access to all rivers and lakes within the state. Every body of water in Montana is owned by the people. The land around the water can be owned privately but the stream itself is everyone’s. This is incredibly beneficial for fisherman and waterfowlers alike. As long as an individual stays below the flood lines they are free to hunt, fish, and recreate in any way they please. Since in Montana every river has at least two access points to launch a boat, the entire river system is open to anyone who wishes.

For me public land is my life. I hunt over 100 days a year and fish half that. I enjoy biking, boating, and hiking as well. As much as I try to get permission on private land, most of the time public is the way to. With a boat and a good pair of boots I am able to travel for days without running into anyone else. Typically, public land is grouped in huge sections of thousands of acres. This allows me to hunt the next draw and fish one more bend over and over again without having to worry about crossing onto someone else’s land.

Compared to other states, Montanans have it easy. This past winter I got invited to duck hunt with some friends in Louisiana. Down there, public land is almost nonexistent. The fields are all privately owned and the waterways are carefully managed to allow minimal access to residents not willing to pay. Simply put, the amount of land an individual has access to is measured by the depth of his/her pocket. Many people who hunt and fish in Louisiana  have purchased a lease and only are able to recreate on that one piece of land. This really made me thankful for what we have here in Montana. We are truly lucky to have so many opportunities and places to spend time in the outdoors.