DOJ: News Release

State Conservation Easement Laws Don’t Apply to Easements Created Under Federal Law

HELENA – In a formal opinion issued Friday, Attorney General Steve Bullock ruled that Montana statutes related to conservation easements do not apply to easements acquired or created by federal agencies under federal law.

The opinion was requested by Teton County Attorney Joe Coble, who asked whether certain provisions of Montana’s “Open-Space and Voluntary Conservation Easement Act” applied to agencies of the federal government. The specific state provisions questioned were the requirements that conservation easements must be recorded in the counties in which the affected land lies, and only after they have been reviewed by the local land-use planning agency.

Coble also questioned the provision that limits the duration of a conservation easement not created in perpetuity to a minimum of 15 years, which may then be renewed, again for a 15-year minimum.

The opinion noted that Conservation Easements Act plainly defined the public agencies it covered to include “the state, counties, cities, towns, and other municipalities,” making clear that the Act “cannot be extended to a federal agency.” The opinion therefore concluded that federal property managers do not have to comply with the Act when creating a conservation easement.

The full opinion can be read online.

Opinions of the attorney general carry the weight of law unless a court overturns them or the legislature modifies the laws involved.

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