Bullock prevails over AG Fox in conservation easement case before Montana Supreme Court

In a 6-1 decision Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court overturned a legal opinion by Attorney General Tim Fox, ruling that Gov. Steve Bullock acted within the law when he circumvented the Montana State Board of Land Commissioners to finalize an eastern Montana conservation easement.

As a result of the ruling, the Land Board will no longer cast the deciding vote on conservation easements. Final approval now lies with the Fish and Wildlife Commission, meaning three additional easements already passed by the commission but halted by the attorney general’s opinion are now completed.

In February, the Land Board voted to delay action on the $6.1 million Horse Creek Conservation Easement near Wibaux. A majority of Republicans — Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, State Auditor Matt Rosendale and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen — voted to delay action. Fox, who is a fellow Republican, and Bullock, who is a Democrat, wanted to push the easement through.

Stapleton cited a general opposition to perpetual land management decisions, while Rosendale and Arntzen wanted more time to review the concerns of mineral interests and later the appraisal.