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Recreational use of State School Trust Land

State Lands Recreational use License

Montana State law requires the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to manage state school trust land in a manner that produces revenue to help support our states public schools. Legally accessible state lands that are not closed or restricted are open to anyone possessing a valid Recreational Use License. Generally, state land includes, but is not limited to, sections 16 and 36 of each township and is colored light blue on most ownership and access maps produced by the USDA Forest Service (USFS) or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Your local DNRC office can also provide information on the location of state land.

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License Requirements

Recreational use of state trust land is divided into two categories: general recreation and special recreation. The type of license required depends on the type of activity being conducted.

"General recreation," by definition, includes most types of noncommercial and/or nonconcentrated activities, except cutting and gathering firewood, collecting valuable rocks/minerals, mineral exploration, or collection or disturbance of archaeological, historical, or paleontological sites (fossils, artifacts, dinosaur bones, old buildings, etc.) These excepted activities require separate authorization form DNRC.

Effective March 1, 2004, under agreement between DNRC and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (DFWP), persons who possess a valid Montana Conservation License from DFWP will be authorized to engage in hunting, fishing, and trapping** on legally accessible state trust land that is not closed or restricted to such use. (Note: The cost of the conservation license was increased by $2 to cover DFWP’s compensation to DNRC for hunting, fishing, and trapping on state trust land.)

Persons desiring to conduct all other types of noncommercial and/or nonconcentrated types of activities falling within the definition of "general recreational use," such as hiking, skiing, sight-seeing, day horseback use, ect., unless such activities are conducted in conjunction with and incidental to hunting, fishing, and trapping, will be required to possess a "State Land Recreational Use License," which is available from any authorized DFWP license agent.

A Special Recreational Use License which is available only from DNRC offices, is required for trapping, commercial recreational use (such as outfitting), and concentrated (group) use. It is also required for uses outside of the restrictions applicable to general recreational use. For example, overnight horseback use or overnight use (camping) more than 200 feet from a customary access point or for more than two days on leased/licensed state trust lands.

Applications for Special Recreational Use Licenses (SRUL’s) for concentrated group use, overnight horse-back use, and overnight use (camping) more than 200 feet from a customary access point or for more than two days on leased/licensed state trust lands should be submitted to the appropriate Land Office at a minimum of one month in advance of the planned event, to insure ample time for the Department to review the application.  After the application has been received and reviewed, the Land Office may issue the appropriate SRUL for the above referenced type of use for a fee to be determined by the Land Office.
 

Applications must include a legal description of each tract requested and should include a map that shows the location of each tract by Section, Township and Range, as well as the access route(s) to the state land.  Use of BLM or USFS maps is recommended.  Use of motorized vehicles to access each tract requested on roads other than county roads, state highways, or other roads designated by DNRC as open for such use, will not be considered.  In addition, the application must list only those tracts/areas that the applicant can reasonably and legitimately expect to accessApplications that are incomplete may, at the discretion of the Department and upon notification to the applicant, be rejected.

** Trapping – Prior to trapping on state trust land, persons will still be required to possess a "Special Recreational Use License" from DNRC as provided below. However, while there will be no additional fee charged for that license (unless authorized under competitive bid between two or more trappers), trapping activities will be restricted to those lands and subject to all terms and conditions as DNRC may approve in the Special Recreational Use License.

Trapping applications will be accepted beginning March 1st of each year in which trapping is requested. The deadline for application submittal to DNRC is September 30th and any application received after the deadline will not be considered during that license year.

Violation

Failure to possess a valid recreational use license, or refusal to present a license on demand to a DNRC employee, game warden, or other law enforcement personnel is a violation subject to prosecution and fines. In addition, violation of any other provision governing recreational use of state land is subject to civil prosecution and fines.

Access

Legally accessible state land is state land that can be accessed by dedicated public roads (roads usable by the public under state or federal law, or which are under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Transportation, or a county or municipal government); public rights-of-way or easements; by public waters such as rivers and streams that are recreationally navigable under section 23-2-302, MCA; by adjacent federal, state, county or municipal land if the land is open for public use, or by adjacent private land if permission to cross the private land is secured from the land owner. Entry from state land onto private land, regardless of the absence of fencing or proper notice by the landowner, without permission from the landowner, is trespassing!

Most state land boundaries are not marked. Please refer to the BLM or USFS maps, or consult with the adjacent landowner or lessee, to determine the boundary locations.

Posting of state land with orange paint or signs such as "No Hunting" or "No Trespassing" are illegal. Lessees may post state land with blue paint to signify no unauthorized use. However, if such land is legally accessible, and has not been closed or restricted to recreational use by rule or by DNRC, recreational use by individuals with a proper recreational use license is permitted.

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Closures (All Recreational Use Prohibited )

Categorical Closures:

Lands leased or licensed for cabin sites or home sites, lands containing growing crops (between time of planting and harvest), active commercial leases, military leases where active military activities are being conducted, and lands where DNRC has declared the threat of wildfire to be extreme, are categorically (automatically) closed.

Site-Specific Closures:

If a valid request for closure of a specific tract of state land is submitted, DNRC may, after an opportunity for a public hearing, close the land. Closures of this type may be based on the disruption of livestock, weed control, damage to surface improvements of the lessee, wildlife protection, the presence of unique or special cultural or natural features, the presence of threatened, endangered or sensitive plant or animal species or communities, the presence of buildings, structures or facilities, or because recreational use would diminish the income generating potential of the state land. These closures can be seasonal, temporary, or permanent.

Management Closures/Restrictions

State land can be temporarily closed, or recreational use restricted, if certain conditions exist which would interfere with the lessees management of those lands. These conditions include the concentration of livestock for special/intensive breeding or for calving, lambing, shipping, weaning, livestock being gathered or moved, recent weed control treatment, active irrigation (however, irrigated land is not closed to foot traffic during hunting season). In addition, land close to a lessees dwelling, structures or other facilities may be closed or restricted except for the purpose of entering or leaving the state lands.

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Lands Closed to Recreational Use Must be Posted At All Customary Access Points.

Restrictions

Motorized Vehicle Use is restricted to federal, state, and dedicated county roads or other roads regularly maintained by the county, or to other roads which have been designated open by DNRC. Off road travel is prohibited. Snowmobile use is allowed on roads if permitted by local traffic laws or regulations. On leased lands, snowmobile use is restricted to the roads mentioned above. On unleased lands, snowmobile use is allowed in all areas except where it is expressly prohibited.

Disabled Hunters possessing a permit to hunt from a vehicle issued by DFWP are authorized to drive on any road on state land, except a road closed by the department by sign or barrier.

Parking by recreationists on state land is allowed within 50 feet of a customary access point; on federal, state and county roads in accordance with local traffic laws or regulations; or within 50 feet of a road designated open by DNRC. Parking must not block other vehicle access to the tract, damage the land or a lessees improvements, or otherwise create a hazard.

Discharge of Firearms must be conducted in a careful and prudent manner. Firearms may not be discharged within 1/4 mile of an inhabited dwelling or outbuilding without permission from the inhabitant; or on state land where DNRC has restricted firearms. Discharge of firearms not in conjunction with licensed hunting may require prior notification to the lessee. (See NOTIFICATION OF ACTIVITIES).

Littering and Fireworks are prohibited.

Overnight Use (camping): (1) Outside of designated campgrounds on leased or licensed state land use must be conducted within 200 feet of a customary access point or navigable waterway, and must not exceed two consecutive days; (2) In designated campgrounds use is limited to 14 consecutive days; (3) On unleased or unlicensed state land, use is limited to 14 days within a calendar year. Overnight use outside of these restrictions requires issuance of a Special Recreational Use License from DNRC. Additionally, overnight use may require prior notification of the lessee (See NOTIFICATION OF ACTIVITIES).

Open Fires on leased or licensed state land are restricted to designated campgrounds.

Pets must be kept on a leash or otherwise under the control of the recreationist.

Horseback Use is restricted to day use only. Horses may not be kept overnight on state land. Horseback use not in conjunction with licensed hunting may require prior notification to the lessee. (See NOTIFICATION OF ACTIVITIES).

Interference with a lessee's or recreationist's legitimate use of state lands is prohibited. Remember, respect each others' rights.

Block Management Areas and Wildlife Management Areas, administered by the DFWP, may include state land. Recreational use of state land in these areas must be conducted in accordance with the rules and regulations specific to that management area. A Recreational Use License is still required for recreational use of state trust lands enrolled in these areas.

Notification of Activities

A lessee may require notification (not permission) either in person, by telephone, or drop box, from recreationists prior to entry onto leased or licensed state land. The type of notification required depends on the type of recreational activity being conducted and the type of notification requested.

If notification is required, the state land must be posted at customary access points with signs available from the DNRC and include the name, phone number, and directions to the residence of the person to be notified, or the location of the drop box.

General Notification Guidelines

All Overnight Use or Horseback or Firearm Use Not in Conjunction With Licensed Hunting: Personal or drop box notification at the designated notice location is required.

Overnight use in conjunction with floating requires personal notification if the designated notice location is less than 500 yards from the state land access point. If greater than 500 yards, drop box notification is sufficient.

Other Uses: Personal notification is required only if the distance from the state tract to the designated notice location or nearest public telephone is less than 5 road miles. If the lessee cannot be contacted, or the distance is greater than 5 miles, a drop box must be provided at customary access points to the tract.

If personal notification is required, the lessee must be available from 7:00 a.m to 9:00 p.m. to receive such notification. Upon request, the recreationist must provide their name, address, and recreational license number; and, if requested, must also provide this information for members of their party.

Proper Notification entitles the recreationist(s) to engage in general recreational activities for three consecutive days, or a longer period if authorized by the lessee, without re-notification.

Enforcement

Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks game wardens enforce the laws and rules pertaining to recreational use of state lands for hunting and fishing. DNRC personnel and other state and local law enforcement personnel may also be involved in the enforcement of these laws and rules.

To Report Violations

Contact a Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks warden or call 1-(800) TIP-MONT

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For More Information Regarding State Lands

Contact your nearest DNRC office:

DNRC Land Offices

DNRC Headquarters
1625 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59620
406/444-2074

2705 Spurgin Road
Missoula, MT 59801
406/542-4300

Northeastern Land Office
USDA Bldg., 613 NE Main
Lewistown, MT 59457
406/538-7789

Northwestern Land Office
2250 Highway 93 North
Kalispell, MT 59901
406/751-2240
Southern Land Office
Airport Industrial Park
Billings, MT 59101
406/247-4400
Southwestern Land Office
1401 27th Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801
406/542-4200
Central Land Office
8001 N. Montana
Helena, MT 59601
406/458-3500
Eastern Land Office
St. 321 Main Street
Miles City, MT 59301
406/232-2034

DNRC Unit Offices (area code - 406)

Helena Unit - 458-3512 Bozeman Unit - 586-5243
Dillon Unit - 683-6305 Missoula Unit - 542-4201
Hamilton Unit - 363-1585 Clearwater Unit - 244-5857
Anaconda Unit - 563-6078 Lewistown Unit - 538-7789
Glasgow Unit - 228-2430 Libby Unit - 293-2711
Plains Unit - 751-2241 Stillwater Unit - 881-2371
Swan Unit - 754-2301 Conrad Unit - 278-7869
Kalispell Unit - 751-2241 Lincoln Station - 362-4999
Havre Unit - 265-5236

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Why Do I Have to Pay to Use State Trust Lands?

The Federal Government granted these lands to the state under the Enabling Act at the time of Montana 's statehood in 1889. The lands were granted for the sole purpose of generating income for support of the common schools. The Enabling Act mandated that the lands, along with their proceeds and income, would be held in trust for the beneficiaries. As a means of generating revenue, a stipulation in the Enabling Act prohibited the state from disposing of an interest in these lands unless fair market value is received. "Disposal of an interest" is considered to be the sale or exchange of the lands, or the granting of any use of them through issuance of a lease, license or easement, if such use is deemed to have a compensable value. Recreational use has been deemed to have a compensable value. The Land Board, whose members consist of the Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor, Attorney General and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, oversee use of these lands and it is their responsibility to assure that the mandate is met.

What Lands are School Trust Lands and Where can Interested Parties Obtain a Map Displaying These Tracts?

Originally, Sections 16 and 36 of every township were granted as School Trust Lands. Some of these sections could not be acquired because they were already homesteaded, were within Indian Reservation boundaries, etc. The state was able to acquire other lands "in lieu" of the lands that could not be acquired. Also, at one time, the Department of State Lands made loans on private lands and held the deed to the private land as collateral. In some cases, the private land owner defaulted on loan payments and the state then acquired those private lands. In short, State Trust Lands now include more than just Sections 16 and 36.

All State Lands, including non-Trust State lands are colored blue on Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service maps, the DeLorme Montana Atlas and Gazeteer (sold in most supermarkets and convenience stores), and maps found at www.nris.mt.gov. A few state tracts, colored blue, are not Trust Lands. These tracts are set aside for State institutions and universities and such uses as Job Service buildings, Military Affairs armories, and State office buildings. They are typically unsuited for recreational use.

What, if any, Rural State Land is Unavailable for Recreational Use?

Agricultural lands (between planting and harvest, ) as well as lands leased for home sites or cabin sites, active military purposes or commercial purposes are closed to recreational use. Some tracts are temporarily, seasonally, or permanently closed or restricted on a site-specific basis for a variety of reasons including weed control, public protection, substantial disruption of livestock activities, sensitive species or plant protection, or to protect the lessee's improvements. In addition, some tracts may be closed for short durations for management purposes (concentration of livestock, recent weed spraying, etc. ) Lands that are closed or restricted must be posted with DNRC approved signs at customary access points.

State Trust lands which are legally accessible and which have not been closed or restricted to such use are open to recreational use. "Legally accessible state lands are those lands that can be accessed by public roads, public rights-of-way, public easement; by public waters that are recreationally navigable under the Stream Access Law; by adjacent federal, state, county or municipal land if that land is open to public use, or by permission of an adjacent landowner.

What Activities are Included in the Fee Paid to Recreate on State Lands? Where do I Pay the Fee?

"General" recreational use licenses are available from authorized license agents of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (DFWP.) This license permits overnight use(camping) on leased or licensed land within 200 feet of a customary access point. Camping is limited to two consecutive days. Disallowed activities include cutting or gathering wood, collecting valuable rocks/minerals, mineral exploration, or collection or disturbance of archaeological, historical, or paleontological sites (fossils, artifacts, dinosaur bones, old buildings, etc.)

"Special" recreational use licenses are available only from offices of DNRC. This license is required for commercial recreational use (such as outfitting), for concentrated group use, overnight horse-back use, or overnight use (camping) outside of a designated campground and more than 200' from a customary access point or for more than two days.

What Restrictions Apply to State Lands?

Motorized vehicle use on state land is restricted to public roads, such as county roads or highways or other roads designated by DNRC as open for such use. Off road use is strictly prohibited. Very few roads on state land are posted, therefore, you should contact the appropriate County to determine if a road is a county road or contact the appropriate DNRC office to determine if a road on State Land is open. (Some roads require court adjudication to determine ownership; permission from potential owners is recommended.)

Discharge of Firearms is not allowed within ¼ mile of an inhabited dwelling or outbuilding.

Parking is allowed on public roads in compliance with local traffic laws and within 50' of a customary access point. You may not park so as to block traffic or in a manner which could produce injury or damage to the land or the lessee's improvements.

Open fires are restricted to designated campgrounds. Fireworks are prohibited

Littering is prohibited

Pets must be on a leash or otherwise under the control of the recreationist.

Overnight horseback use is prohibited without a "special"recreational use license.

What Does it Mean if State Land is Posted With Blue Paint?

Blue paint used on state land is used for the same purpose as orange paint on private land -IT IS USED TO NOTIFY PERSONS AGAINAST UNAUTHORIZED USE (TRESPASS). Recreational use of legally accessible state land is an authorized use so long as the recreationist has in his/her possession a state land recreational use license.

Do I Have to Have the Lessee's Permission or Have to Notify the Lessee Prior to Using the State Land?

Permission of the lessee is not needed. However, lessee's may require recreationists to notify them prior to using the state land. The following information addresses notification provisions and requirements:

NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS FOR USES OTHER THAN OVERNIGHT USE, OR FOR HORSEBACK USE AND FIREARM USE NOT IN CONJUNCTION WITH LICENSED HUNTING

Lessee must post and provide drop boxes at all customary access points to each tract for which notification is required and include information necessary to allow for contact to be made.

If personal contact requested, must be available for contact from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm;

If state tract is less than 5 miles from a public telephone or location for contact, personal notification must be attempted;

If state tract is more than 5 miles from a public telephone or location for contact or personal contact can't be made, drop box notification will suffice;

Notice must include all recreationists names, addresses, and recreational use license number and dates of use;

Notice is effective for three days. Maybe for longer if the activity (back country use, etc.) make further notice impossible or if the lessee grants permission for longer period.

NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS FOR OVERNIGHT USE and for horseback and firearm use not in conjunction with licensed hunting;

Lessee must post at all customary access points to each tract for which notification is required and include information necessary to allow for contact to be made;

If personal contact requested, must be available for contact from 7:00am to 9:00 pm;

Who is Enforcing the Rules and What is the Penalty for Illegal Recreational Use of the Lands?

Game wardens are primarily responsible for enforcement of the state land recreational use rules. However, DSL personnel may also enforce certain provisions. Violators are subject to assessment of a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per day for each violation.

Where can I Get Copies of the State Land Recreational Use Rules, Informational Pamphlets or Answers to Other Questions I May Have?

Information can be obtained at all DNRC offices statewide listed above.

What license do I need to recreate on state school lands and how much does it cost?

Effective March 1, 2004, under agreement between DNRC and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (DFWP), persons who possess a valid Montana Conservation License from DFWP will be authorized to engage in hunting, fishing, and trapping** on legally accessible state trust land that is not closed or restricted to such use. The cost of a conservation license from any DFWP agent is $8 for a resident of Montana and $10 for a nonresident.

Persons desiring to conduct all other types of noncommercial and/or nonconcentrated types of activities falling within the definition of "general recreational use", such as hiking, skiing, sight-seeing, day horseback use, etc., unless such activities are conducted in conjunction with and incidental to hunting, fishing, or trapping, will be required to possess a "State Land Recreational Use License," which is also available from any authorized DFWP license agent. All persons 12 years of age and older who recreate on state land must possess the license. The cost of the license depends on the persons age and/or family status. For persons 12-17 yrs old or folks 60 yrs. of age and older, the cost is $5. The cost for persons 18-59 yrs. old is $10. However, there is also a "family license" available at a total cost of $20 that authorizes up to 5 members of an immediate family living in the same household to recreate on state lands

** Trapping – Prior to trapping on state trust land, persons will still be required to possess a "Special Recreational Use License" from DNRC as provided below. However, while there will be no additional fee charged for that license (unless authorized under competitive bid between two or more trappers), trapping activities will be restricted to those lands and subject to all terms and conditions as DNRC may approve in the Special Recreational Use License.

Both the Conservation License and the State Land Recreational Use Licenses are issued for a 12-month period beginning on March 1 of each year and expiring on the last day of February of the next year.

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Contact

Dept. of Natural Resources & Conservation
1625 Eleventh Ave.
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 444-2074
Fax: (406) 444-2684