News From the Front, January 13

Thomas Francis Meagher* still guards the Capitol under the same moon he saw in the 1860’s.  He was, perhaps, Montana’s ultimate celebrity. See the last page of NFTF for details.

The week according to Jeff

I’m not nearly as afraid of Friday the 13th as I am of the people who are afraid of Friday the 13th.”  Anonymous

Dear Readers:

It seems opportune to run this week, maybe a little more, backwards. The second week of the Session started off with confirmation that DNRC’s budget will be heard on Friday the 13th in front of the (H) Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and TransportationHB 2 on pages C-3 and C-4.

We’ve started a big roundup of Supervisors to come to Helena to testify in support of funds. MACD President Jeff Wivholm and MACD Vice President Mark Suta are both hoping to be in Helena for this hearing, as well as Supervisors and other supporters from a number of Districts.  The funds are located in

Also on Friday, HB 104 will be heard in front of the (H) Natural Resources Committee. This bill is “AN ACT CREATING THE GROUND WATER INVESTIGATION PROGRAM SPECIAL REVENUE ACCOUNT; PROVIDING A STATUTORY APPROPRIATION.” MACD will support this bill. Jane Holzer is the Conservation District representative for this program.  

Also on Friday, HB 107 will be heard in front of the (H) Natural Resources Committee. This bill is “AN ACT CREATING A SURFACE WATER ASSESSMENT AND MONITORING PROGRAM; PROVIDING FOR A SURFACE WATER ASSESSMENT AND MONITORING PROGRAM SPECIAL REVENUE ACCOUNT; PROVIDING PROGRAM DUTIES; PROVIDING A STATUTORY APPROPRIATION.”  MACD lobbied successfully earlier this year at the interim committee meetings to include a Conservation District representative on the steering committee of this program. If this bill passes, Conservation Districts will be asked to participate on the steering committee, and it’s not too early to start thinking about a name.  

NOTE: This edition of News From the Front will not be able to report on the above hearings. Look in the 20th January edition for details.

On Thursday, 12th January, HB 6  and HB 7 were heard in front of the (H) Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning. These bills provide lump sum funding for planning grants for Districts (and other entities), benefiting many Districts over the years.  MACD President Jeff Wivholm testified in favor of both bills. There were no opponents. The committee took no action.

On Wednesday, 11th January, HB 53 was heard in front of the (H) Natural Resources Committee. This is a clean up bill proposed by DNRC. It is “AN ACT CLARIFYING THE PROCEDURE FOR CALCULATING LEVIES FOR CONSERVATION DISTRICTS.”  MACD President Jeff Wivholm testified in favor of this bill, as did DNRC. There were no opponents. The committee took no action.  

On Monday Elena and I met with a senator interested in having Conservation Districts play a more significant role in the invasive species issues currently in the headlines across Montana. We know few details because his ideas are still in the formative stages. We may see more about this in the future if his ideas get off the ground. MACD President Jeff Wivholm was able to spend a bit of time with this senator later in the week.  

Going back further in time, on Friday 6th January we attended two hearings.  SB 39 was heard in front of the (S) Local Government Committee. This is the bill that DNRC sponsored to clean up our statutes. It is “AN ACT ELIMINATING NOTICE TO AND APPROVAL OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF CONSERVATION DISTRICT ORGANIZATION.” MACD and the Montana Association of Counties (MACo) both supported this bill, and we predict passage by the Legislature and approval by the Governor.   

The same Friday a hearing was held for HB 83 MACD supported this bill. The committee took no front of the (H) State Administration Committee. This is a clean up bill needed to address mistakes made in the 2015 Session’s giant election law revision that included Supervisor election changes.

NOTE: SB39 and HB83 hearings were held after the publication deadline for NFTF, and that’s why they were not in the 6th January edition.

In other news…

NACD co-signs letter addressed to President-elect Trump

NACD and 18 other agriculture and public lands groups sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump regarding the authorities provided by the Antiquities Act. The letter stressed the need for congressional revisions to the Act requiring any national monument proclamation by the president be subject to congressional approval and limited to 5,000 acres in size, per the original intent of the Antiquities Act.

A copy of the letter can be found in NACD’s newsroom. See:


Zinke confirmation hearing next Tuesday; special election up next
By Mike Dennison – MTN NewsCONNECT
The Senate confirmation hearing for Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke as U.S. Interior secretary will be next Tuesday, setting up possible final confirmation quickly after Donald Trump becomes president.

If Zinke is confirmed by the U.S. Senate this month, a special election to choose his replacement would likely be in early May – and state political parties would be holding their nominating conventions in early February.
State Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, the chairman of the state Republican Party, told MTN News Tuesday that its convention to choose the GOP candidate for Zinke’s seat would be the first or second week of February – if the confirmation process goes smoothly.

The Democratic and Libertarian parties also would be holding their respective conventions to pick a candidate.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced late Tuesday that Zinke’s confirmation hearing will be next Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 10 a.m. EST before her committee.


Trump will be inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, which is next Friday.
Trump announced last month that he’ll nominate Zinke to be U.S. Interior secretary, overseeing a department that manages 75 percent of federal public lands – including the National Park Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Trump can’t formally submit Zinke’s name until he becomes president, but the U.S. Senate, which must confirm all cabinet appointees, can hold hearings on the nominees before Trump’s inauguration.

Sources told MTN it’s possible the U.S. Senate could confirm Zinke shortly after Trump becomes president, if the confirmation process doesn’t turn up any problems. Once Zinke is confirmed, he would resign his U.S. House seat.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock then would set a special election within 85-to-100 days of Zinke’s resignation. If Zinke is confirmed the week of Jan. 22, the election could be as soon as late April.”

What to watch next week and beyond…

The week of 16th to 20th January will be very busy. Nine Conservation Districts applied for grant dollars from the DNRC RRGL program to fund 12 projects. MACD is working with those Districts to help coordinate their presentations. It is hoped that they will be able to come to Helena to describe their projects to the (H) Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning. The projects will be heard over three days, the 18th, 19th, and 20th.

That same committee will hear 7 projects proposed by 6 Conservation Districts, funded from the RDG program, but on Monday, 23rd January.

All 15 Conservation Districts have been invited to Helena to present.

All 19 projects are in HB 14, home for the Renewable Resources Grant and Loan Program (commonly referred to as the RRGL), and the Reclamation and Development Grants Program (commonly referred to as the RDG Program). The 12 RRGL projects proposed by Conservation Districts total $1,424,870. The 7 RDG projects proposed by Conservation Districts total $1,578,004. The total funds requested are $3,002,874.

There will no doubt be other bills heard in committee hearings next week, but we have not yet been notified of any.  

We’ve got our eyes on it

If you wish to see our most current list of bills that we are monitoring, we’ve set up an account that will allow easy access to any of the bills we are tracking. Go to this link:

Preference Account Login (login to an already established preference account)

​  Our User Name is MACD2017 and our Password is Conservation17​   

​Once you get there, click on MACD Tracker to see the list. ​Comments and ideas are welcome.

Here are a few bills that I highlighted, as they may be of interest to Conservation Districts. If details are available, you may find them with the MACD Tracker.

LC421- Provide notification at certain dwellings for oil and gas operations. There was a MACD resolution a few years back about notifications.

LC736- Generally revise laws related to infrastructure funding programs. We do not yet know what will be in this bill. However, there is a MACD resolution about infrastructure and this may be one to keep our eyes on.

LC1066-Generally revise laws related to agricultural hemp. Hemp was a topic of a MACD resolution that did not pass. I listed it here as a matter of interest for those who voted in favor of the resolution.

LC1916- Revise funding for Growth Through Agriculture. Conservation Districts share a funding source with this program. If it’s changed, does it impact us?

LC2119- Establish a pilot program for energy production future and environmental stewardship. We’ve heard that Conservation Districts may be named a player in this bill, but the details are not yet available.

LC2250- Enact protections for Yellowstone River. MACD sent a separate note to the two river councils to ask for their help in monitoring this bill.

LC2317- Study bill regarding aluminum can recycling deposit and refund program. This might be of interest as a follow up from a MACD resolution several years ago brought forth by Yellowstone Conservation District.

LC2323- Provide funding for the St. Mary irrigation rehabilitation project. This bill could be related to the MACD infrastructure bill that passed in 2016.

LC2366- Revise funding for coal bed methane protection program. This draft bill is in direct response to the MACD resolution of the same topic.

SB48- Direct DEQ to assume dredge-and-fill permitting program. MACD has no position on this bill but will monitor.

SB98- Establish the Montana property fairness act. Immunities or liability waivers in Conservation District laws could be impacted by this bill. There are concerns about impacts to  the 310 law.

You can look at each of these bills to see if they are drafted on the MACD Tracker. Most only have a title right now.

Remember that you are able to watch or listen to any hearing from your computer. Scroll through the Video and Audio – Session section at this link:  to find the appropriate committee.


Lend us a hand

Talk to Legislators anytime you get a chance.

Thanks to all of you who are reading this report. Contact me with comments or questions or 406.465.8813. We appreciate your support in this endeavor, and for helping to keep Montana.




*As noted in Wikipedia, Thomas Francis Meagher was an Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. After being convicted of sedition in England, he was first sentenced to death, but received transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) in Australia. In 1852 he escaped and made his way to the United States, where he settled in New York City. There Meagher studied law, worked as a journalist, and traveled to present lectures on the Irish cause.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Meagher joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general.[1] He was most notable for recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade, and encouraging support among Irish immigrants for the Union.

Following the Civil War, Meagher was appointed acting governor of the Montana Territory. In 1867, Meagher drowned in the swift-running Missouri River after falling from a steamboat at Fort Benton.


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