If Our Grandparents Had Only Known
By Tammi Fladager, Peerless Rancher
The discussion about State Lands in Daniels County is about as dry as the land it is referring to. At least that’s what I used to think. With dizzying numbers and statistics, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of information. When attempting to impress upon people the sheer impact of it, the listener’s eyes glaze over and they consider various escape routes.
Oppression, which is defined as singling out a small
group for a characteristic that they have no control over, has been present throughout the ages, but people learn to ignore it, act like it doesn’t happen, and even, some- times, find ways to justify it. It’s passed on from genera tion to generation and becomes ingrained in society.
An argument can be made that this is the case with state lands in Daniels County. We, a minority of 1700+ people, are oppressed because of an extravagant amount of nontaxable lands owned by the State of Montana, of which we obviously have no control over. This oppression has burdened Daniels County citizens since day one of our county’s inception. Despite attempts for 100 years to end this “sharecropping” agreement, people with power often attempt to justify the situation with comments like, “Well, then you shouldn’t live there,” or even, “Your grandparents had to have known about it when they created the county.” It has been ingrained in the legislative society of Montana.
Heroes, such as Ed Carney and Art Lund fought for years to find a solution and were mostly beaten about
the head and shoulders for their efforts. However, occasionally Daniels County was rewarded with temporary “tokens” of funds from the state, often with restrictions on spending. Over time, the funds were reduced and eventually stopped, being thrown into a very convoluted equalization formula.
Community members who have been around for a while simply shake their heads about the efforts to cor- rect the situation and say, “You are fighting a losing bat tle. You will never get anywhere with the state.”
That could be true but what if it isn’t a losing battle?
What if there is a simple answer that has eluded all of us because of the complexity of the issue? What if the state gets so sick of hearing about the state lands oppression for Daniels County that it throws up its hands like a tired mother and says, “Fine! What do you want?”
Actually, that’s a good question. What do we want?
Personally, I would like 100 years’ worth of retribution for the taxes we could not collect, but that’s not going to happen. In 2019, Daniels County missed out on nearly $500,000 worth of taxes due to the exempt status of state lands. A. Half. A. Million. Dollars. In just ONE year.
What do you think the school could do with a chunk of that money? (There would have been no special mill levy for school repairs, which we passed in 2020, had the schools been getting these funds all along.) If Daniels County could receive those same funds for 10 years, it would be $5 million dollars.
I think that’s why it’s worth making some noise about state lands and why I decided to write this series of columns. In the next few weeks, the columns will give you a short history of the cause of the issue, including a recount of the injustice of how the state sabotaged the homesteaders’ dreams. There will be a timeline showing attempts at legislation and any resultant funds received.
Future columns will also review Mikel Lund’s current push to get a new bill in front of the 2021 legislature.
And then, I will shamelessly beg you to join me in a social media blitz in attempt to raise awareness amongst our legislators, or simply let the rest of the state know that Daniels County is getting the guts kicked out of us and no one is stopping to help.
I did not know about the state lands issue when I moved to Daniels County, and I did not understand the negative implications of the 24% state lands burden. But
I do know that this is just not unfair, or unjust. It’s just not right. And I hope to convince you of the same.