‘American Prairie Reserve’ bill dies in committee

    BRIEF

    Bison calves being moved at the American Prairie Reserve (Photo courtesy of the American Prairie Reserve).

    A bill that would have prohibited the sale of agricultural land to nonprofits of more than 80 acres died on Thursday in the House Agricultural Committee.

    Rep. Dan Bartel, R-Lewistown, introduced House Bill 677. He said his purpose was to protect agricultural land in Montana. He pointed out that the state’s largest industry, agriculture, needed to be protected.

    However, the aim of the bill was turned toward the American Prairie Reserve, a central Montana nonprofit that has bought substantial tracts of land for bison, grazing, recreation and conservation, rankling many area farmers and ranchers in the process.

    During testimony earlier in the week, ranchers and farmers testified on both sides of the bill. Many ranchers begged for the land to be preserved. Meanwhile, opponents of the bill, including many Republicans, saw the measure as government interfering with property rights.

    Lawmakers on the Ag Committee, many of whom come from a ranching or farming background, spoke with sympathy, but said limiting who can buy land and to whom sellers must sell is too extreme.

    The bill did not garner a single vote from the committee’s members and was tabled.

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    Darrell Ehrlick
    Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.