The state of Montana is considering what would be the largest and most expensive purchase through its land banking program, almost 24,000 acres of dryland acreage about 30 miles north of Miles City that has an asking price of $15.97 million.
The Angela Farm in Rosebud County would be bought with money the state has acquired from the sale of other state parcels, known as its Land Banking fund. Since 2006 the fund has purchased almost 70,000 acres at a cost of $35.54 million. The money to make those buys came from the sale of more than 79,500 acres of state land for more than $54.6 million.
The idea of the Land Banking system is to divest the state of lands that are less profitable and may be inaccessible and replace those with parcels that can earn more money while also providing access to the public for recreational activities and protecting wildlife habitat.
The Angela Farm “property supports antelope, deer, waterfowl and upland game bird hunting opportunities, as well as hiking and bird watching,” according to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which administers the Land Banking program.
According to the Land Board’s July 24 agenda, the property is projected to earn the state $480,000 a year in revenue, a 3 percent return over 20 years. The acreage is divided between about 14,996 acres of dryland agricultural land and 7,653 acres of dryland grazing.
Acquisition of the property would also provide public access to an adjacent 1,280 acres of state land that is currently inaccessible.
The land purchase received preliminary Land Board approval and must now go through an inventory, appraisal and survey before the board will decide whether to OK the purchase. If bought, the state would not pay county taxes on the land, which in 2015 amounted to almost $41,000.
About 12 miles northwest of Whitefish the Land Board is also considering the acquisition of almost 13,400 acres of forestland known as the “Stillwater Lazy-Swift.” According to the board’s agenda, “The property has become available to the state through an option agreement held between Weyerhaeuser and the Trust for Public Lands. The property is surrounded by the Stillwater State Forest in Flathead County.”
The $5 million asking price for the land would include contributions from an alphabet soup of other groups, agencies and funds including the Trust for Public Lands; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ HCP Land Grant funding, DNRC, and BPA Habitat Conservation Funding.
“The Stillwater State Forest area holds exceptional and diverse wildlife habitat essential to multiple species such as grizzly bear, lynx, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. It is a unique opportunity for state ownership and for future public recreation,” according to the Land Board agenda.
To complete the acquisition the TPL would complete its acquisition from Weyerhaeuser with FWP and BPA conservation easements to be placed on the lands at closing. DNRC would then secure a purchase agreement with TPL contingent upon due diligence and conservation easement reviews.
Past land purchases by the state have included the 18,500-acre Tongue River Ranch south of Miles City in 2007 for $4.8 million and the controversial Milk River Ranch in Hill County that was bought in 2012 and prompted a legislative backlash against then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The 1,500-acre ranch sold for just over $1 million.