The objective of the Unlocking Public Lands Program is to allow members of the public to cross parcels of enrolled private land to gain access to otherwise inaccessible parcels of state or federal (Bureau of Land Management or United States Forest Service) land for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, hiking, bird-watching and other forms of outdoor recreation compatible with the use of public lands.
The program allows private landowners to enter into contractual agreements with Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks (FWP) to provide public recreational access where no legal public access currently exists, and receive an annual tax credit in the amount of $750 per agreement (up to a maximum of $3,000 tax credit per year) for allowing such access.
- Public land parcels are eligible for enrollment if they cannot be accessed by:
- public road, right-of-way, or easement;
- public waters;
- adjacent federal, state, county, or municipal land that is open to public use; or
- adjacent private land because that landowner has not granted permission to cross.
- Public land parcels are not eligible for enrollment if they are restricted or closed to general recreational use by the land management agency that owns or has legal control of the public land parcel.
- Public land parcels are not eligible for enrollment if they are actively enrolled in any FWP program that already provides public access to the public land parcel, such as Block Management, Habitat Montana, Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters, or Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program.
- If hunting is allowed on the private land through which the public is allowed to pass to reach the public land parcel, that hunting cannot be managed through outfitting or commercial hunting. NOTE: Enrollment in the Unlocking Public Lands Program does not convey to the public any right to hunt or otherwise recreate on the private land through which they are allowed to pass to reach public land.
- If a state land parcel has a DNRC lease, only the lessee is eligible to enter into an Unlocking Public Lands Program contract to provide access to that state land parcel.
- Access to the public land must be made available for a majority of the year (at least 6 months and 1 day, beginning no later than June 30 and extending continuously through December 31) for all general recreational use, including hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, bird-watching, and other uses compatible with the use of public lands.
- Enrollment in the Unlocking Public Lands Program does not convey to the public any right to hunt or otherwise recreate on the private land through which they are allowed to pass to reach public land.
- The location of the project will be published in a map located on the FWP Unlocking Public Lands Program website, and made available to the public for the length of the contract term;
- Temporary closures of access routes imposed by the landowner are allowed for extreme environmental conditions, such as high fire danger or impassible roads, and require:
- Notification of the appropriate FWP Regional headquarters at least 24 hours prior to the closure;
- Public notice posted by the landowner on-site;
- Approval from FWP if closure is in effect more than 7 days;
- Closure must be removed within 24 hours after the natural environmental conditions that triggered the closure no longer exist.
- The project area will be signed by FWP to identify enrollment in program. Signs must remain in place for the entire length of the contract term.
- FWP and successful applicants will enter into cooperative annual agreements (contracts) that will outline the terms of access.
- Upon completion of the contract terms a certification number will be assigned to the contract that will verify that the landowner is eligible for the tax credit.
- Violation of the contract terms may result in FWP not certifying the landowner as eligible for the tax benefit offered under this program.
- A landowner may enter into separate annual agreements to provide access for up to four (4) non-contiguous public land parcels. Contiguous public land parcels shall be counted as one parcel.
- A landowner (taxpayer) is allowed a credit against the taxes imposed by Title 15, chapter 30 or 31, MCA, in the amount of $750 for each qualified access to public land that is provided. The maximum credit that a landowner may claim in a tax year is $3,000.
- If the amount of the credit exceeds the landowner's tax liability, the amount of the excess must be refunded to the landowner. The credit may be claimed even if the claimant has no taxable income.
- If the property through which access is provided is owned by multiple taxpayers, each taxpayer may claim a proportionate share of the $750 credit based on their respective ownership interests in that property.