Hunters headed afield in the coming weeks for the opening of Montana's upland game bird and special archery seasons should remember to purchase a State Lands Recreational Use License if they plan to hunt on accessible state school trust lands.
State school trust lands are those colored blue on federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land- status maps. Montana law requires that all persons 12 years of age and older have a Recreational Use License when using state school trust lands for general recreational purposes (including hunting, fishing, hiking and a number of other recreational activities). Licenses can be obtained from any authorized Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) license agent.
Since they were implemented in the spring of 1992, the rules that opened Montana's state school trust lands to licensed recreational use also have imposed restrictions deemed necessary to protect people and personal property, as well as to preserve the lands and their resources. The rules contain provisions that either prohibit or restrict open fires, motor vehicle use, parking, discharge of firearms, camping and some other activities. Camping, for example, is permitted only within 200 feet of a normal access point or access route on the property and the maximum length of stay at a particular spot is two consecutive days.
But perhaps the most unrecognized or misunderstood restriction regarding Montana's state lands access law involves road use. Motor vehicle use on accessible lands is confined to county, state and federal roads, or to other roads designated "OPEN" for recreational use. This restriction applies even if the road or the state land it crosses is not posted. In all cases, off-road use is prohibited.
Some recreationists mistakenly believe that a "designated" road is any established road or trail. However, only a very limited number of roads are designated "OPEN" and such a designation is granted only if the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) determines that established criteria for such a designation has been met and that use of the road would be in the best interest of the state and would not result in damage to, or degradation of, the resource.
An exception to this restriction is that physically disabled hunters who possess a "permit to hunt from a vehicle" issued by FWP may use any road on state land that is not closed by a sign or barrier.
There also may be exceptions to these rules on state school trust lands within Block Management Areas established by FWP to provide public hunting access to private lands. In these cases, the rules established for the individual Block Management Area in question will take precedence over the general rules for recreational use of state lands.
Maps showing designated roads are posted at DNRC, BLM and USFS offices. In addition, informational brochures on state lands use rules and restrictions are available from these offices and all FWP offices.
Those desiring further information should contact their nearest DNRC office or phone 406-444-2074.