The Montana Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in a conservation easement case that pitted Gov. Steve Bullock against Attorney General Tim Fox came down to the definition of the word “acquire.”
A 6-1 majority of the court says the plain meaning of the word indicates the Legislature did not intend to require approval from the Montana State Board of Land Commissioners for state conservation easements.
The court issued its opinion Thursday in Bullock’s case against Fox. The ruling overturned an attorney general’s opinion Fox issued last year, which found that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks conservation easements do require Land Board approval, in a case stemming from a dispute between Bullock and the board. While the court issued its order last December, Thursday’s opinion states the full legal rationale backing the decision.
The case began with the Horse Creek Conservation easement near Wibaux last year. The $6.1 million easement, which provides public access while curbing development, was agreed to by the Stenson family and FWP and approved by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.
When FWP brought the easement to the Land Board, Republicans state Auditor Matt Rosendale, Superintendent of Public Instruction