News From the Front, January 20

Conservation Districts are all about the future. MACD Board Member Dean Rogge holds SWCDM Associate Director Ann McCauley’s son Beck. I think I know what Beck was doing.


The week according to Jeff

“A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.”  Seneca, Moral Essays: Volume III

Dear Readers:

Sometimes I read about people whose actions make me think they seem to be wandering aimlessly. They don’t have a mission. To me it appears that they have no connection to land, no sense of place. Caring for our land and water, helping make both productive, connects us to the land and in my opinion is the best mission any human can have.

But one can easily argue that modern medicine and technology and other things are great, and the people that chase and create and drive them are on valuable missions. I’m happy that I have an artificial canal system around my heart (three stents). We have self driving tractors and we will see self driving cars and other interesting and practical advances in our lifetimes. However, land and water are THE ONLY foundations for the future of humans. They always have been, and they always will be.

The adult world for little Beck will be much different than what we see today. Our best gift to him includes clean water, healthy soil, and leaving the land in better shape than when we started managing it. If he becomes a farmer or a rancher, his best gift to his children will be the same. Thinking about the value of those gifts, the heights they’ve enabled humanity to reach over the centuries, is why I like working for you.  

Movers & Shakers this week

The news in this edition of NFTF begins with a report about the events occurring on Friday the 13th in front of the (H) Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation.

There were about 25 supporters of the DNRC budget, or parts of it, at the hearing on Friday morning. That’s a good showing. If you want to see our people in action, we took a lot of pictures and placed them on the MACD Facebook page. A major THANK YOU goes out to the women and men who traveled to Helena on less than perfect winter roads to help highlight the working relationship we have with our partners at DNRC. It is appreciated and it is valuable. The Committee took no action on this bill. They will do so in the next couple of weeks or so.  

A number of days earlier, this same committee agreed to cut the amount of spending authority* DNRC has for using coal tax funds. The cut was made because there are not enough revenues coming in from our decreasing coal economy. Unfortunately, these funds are used for administrative grants to Conservation Districts. In the not too distant future, this committee will consider replacing a portion of those funds with General Fund dollars. MACD will be working to try and make that replacement equal to the amount cut. Right now it isn’t equal – it’s less.

On that same day, HB 104 was 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 President Jeff Wivholm spoke in favor of this bill. Jane Holzer is the Conservation District representative for this program. She also spoke in favor of this bill. There were many other supporters. The committee took no action that day, but I read on Thursday that this bill passed out of committee 13-2.

Also on Friday, HB 107 was 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.  Jeff Wivholm and Jane Holzer both spoke in favor of this bill. There were no opponents. The committee took no action that day, but I read on Thursday that this bill passed out of committee 11-4.

On Monday a grand presentation was made in the former Montana Supreme Court Chambers to a combined legislative committee to update legislators about aquatic invasive species (AIS). This topic has been in the news lately and it is something that could impact most if not all of Montana. The presenters requested more than $10 million for the biennium to combat this threat. No one knows where the funds will come from to address this situation. It is not known if Conservation Districts will play a management role in this effort. There will be some sort of role, however. There is more information about this issue in The Montana Conservationist.  

On Tuesday SB 93 was heard in front of the  (S) Energy and Telecommunications Committee.  This bill provides for notification at certain dwellings for oil and gas operations. I believe it was in 2015 that the Conservation Districts passed a resolution pertaining to notification issues. Although this is a bit different from the resolution, it pertains to notification issues and may be of interest to a number of Conservation Districts. MACD did not attend this hearing, but we hear that it went well and this bill has a chance to advance.

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday HB 14  was heard in front of the (H) Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation. There are 19 separate projects proposed by Conservation Districts in this bill, totaling more than $3 million worth of work. Only the RRGL projects were covered these three days. Districts from across Montana traveled to Helena to make their cases about the value of their projects. Unfortunately, not all the Conservation District projects made the cut recommended by the Governor’s Budget Office. In past years the Legislature has made changes to what was recommended by the governor. We don’t know how it will look at the end of this Session nor how it will end up. MACD testified in the affirmative for all the Conservation District projects. In addition, MACD filled in for a number of Districts that were not able to attend the hearing, including distributing letters of support and handouts with project details.

Four Conservation Districts sponsoring five RRGL projects will be heard in front of this committee early Friday morning. They’ve all been invited to the MACD office for coffee and donuts and strategy early that morning. NFTF will report on this in the 27th January edition.

On Wednesday SB48 was heard in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. This bill  directs DEQ to assume the 404 dredge-and-fill permitting program. There was one supporter and three opponents. MACD has no position on this bill but is monitoring. The sponsor of the bill will extend the effective date of the bill, making it effective two years down the road. There were a lot of questions in the hearing, and I can’t guess how it will end up.

HB 53 passed out of the (H) Natural Resources Committee on a 15-0 vote. This is a clean up bill proposed by DNRC. It is “AN ACT CLARIFYING THE PROCEDURE FOR CALCULATING LEVIES FOR CONSERVATION DISTRICTS.”

HB 83 passed out of the  (H) State Administration Committee, cleared the floor of the House easily, and is on the way for consideration of the Senate. 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.  

A new bill that may impact Conservation Districts popped up.

Bill Draft Number: LC1749   Current Bill Text:      
Bill Type – Number: HB 281
Short Title: Locate certain utilities over water
Primary Sponsor: George G Kipp  (D) HD 15

Preliminary examination of this bill is underway.

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


In other news…

The Governor’s Office called a Thursday afternoon meeting of those groups interested in Sage Grouse issues and state legislation about to be launched. If there are interesting outcomes we will report back.  

Three people were appointed to senior natural resource management positions with the Executive Branch. Ben Thomas will be the director of the Montana Department of Agriculture. You can find more about him here: Biography of Ben Thomas | USDA. Martha Williams was appointed to head up the Montana Department of Fish. Wildlife and Parks. You can find more about her here:  Both of these appointments are subject to approval by the Montana State Senate. MACD is interested in testifying at both hearings but we’d like to hear thoughts from Conservation Districts, especially if you’ve had the chance to interact with either nominee.

In addition to the above, Patrick Holmes was appointed to be the Natural Resource Advisor to Governor Bullock. He replaces Tim Baker. You may see more about Patrick Holmes at  I am interested in his thoughts about public/private partnerships regarding the US National Forests, as there may be some common ground regarding Lake Conservation District’s Conservation Forest idea. We will see. Anyone from the Districts who knows Mr. Holmes is asked to brief us. 

Right now there are a number of interesting positive developments being discussed in the hallways that might involve Conservation Districts. If these draft bills gain some form and move forward, we’ll note them in NFTF. Some could be good to very good for Districts. But remember that they are all talk right now. Some of you may recall two years ago when I calculated that there were 1 billion words uttered in the Capitol during the Session.

What to watch next week and beyond…

The pace of hearings will pick up steam next week. Several have been scheduled, but there will be more as the days pass.

On Monday, 23rd January, the RDG portion of HB 14 will be heard in the (H) Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning committee. Those Districts sponsoring projects have been invited to the MACD office early that morning for coffee and donuts and strategy. There are 19 projects listed under the RDG bill, and Conservation Districts have 7 of them. The 7 RDG projects proposed by Conservation Districts total $1,578,004.   

Our big event on Tuesday 24th January is the Meet and Greet at the Montana Club. We will invite all 150 Legislators to stop in to visit in an informal setting. Thanks to Districts that sent invitations out to their Legislators. In the past we’ve hosted up to ⅓ of the members. We have some competition with the State of the State address the same night, but we’re hoping that we get flooded after that event.

This week there’ll be some more votes on bills that have already been through the hearing process. This is called “Executive Action,” and the fate of many bills depends on a positive vote. Look for any bills with expenditures that get out of committees to be held in the full Appropriations Committee until finances are more clear to the Legislature.  

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.

That list grows everyday and changes are noted.

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.

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.

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 details on the MACD Tracker.

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.




*In Helena, we often use the terms “spending authority” and “cash” without explaining what they mean. House Bill 2, the large bill that includes most of the state’s budget for the next two years, usually includes both spending authority and cash. For example, there will be words that indicate that you’re allowed to spend $100 (spending authority) to do such and such, and the cash for that expenditure is found in (for example) the General Fund. You have to have both spending authority and cash to be able to move ahead and get the work done.  In one of our committees, a Legislative Staffer named Dr. Stephen Forrest used a description of “spending authority” and “cash” that I’d like to share with you. Say that you want to buy a new tractor. You have the cash in your savings account to buy a tractor (the cash). However, your wife says no, we need that money for (college fund, roof repair, fix irrigation problems, etc). That’s the spending authority, or in this cash lack of spending authority. Because you need both the spending authority and the cash, and you can’t buy the tractor.


Looking at it from the other way, you might want to buy a tractor, and your wife agrees. You have the spending authority. However, when you look in your bank at your cash, you don’t have the funds to make the purchase.  You need both to proceed, so you cannot make the purchase.


This is the way State Government operates, and it makes bureaucratic sense. We have to have the cash before we move forward, AND we have to have the OK from the people who control the budget (the Legislature) before we move forward.   

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