Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about your individual situation it is best to seek the advice of an experienced legal professional.

Two new major pieces of environmental legislation have hit the senate. Both will likely change the face of Montana land and water management for the foreseeable future. One is specific to Montana: the Montana Water Rights Protection Act, S. 3019 settles damages with the CSKT group of tribes, restores the National Bison Range to them and commits to improving their water infrastructure in exchange for voiding a number of water rights claims throughout Montana. The other is the Great American Outdoors Act S. 3422, which has passed the US Senate and House of Representatives. The Great American Outdoors Act fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In the wake of these bills becoming law, Montana is likely to see a major reshuffle of public lands, access-ways, water quality and wildlife preservation.

As a result of these much needed changes, there may be some consternation as the balance is tipped in favor of some parties. For example, the Water Rights Protection Act may threaten the interests of farmers, while on the other hand it preserves and protects waters for fish spawning and supports the Flathead Irrigation project and water infrastructure improvement. Under the Water Rights Protection Act, the National Bison Range will no longer be public lands. Conservationists of the herd have expressed some concern about the animals losing federal protection. Additionally, the bill provides for buying out private landowners whose lands can’t be surrendered in the deal and exchanging public lands from elsewhere. Yet, the Great American Outdoors Act makes it more likely that federal lands can be acquired and public parks protected/extended.

If You Can’t Win, Mediate

It’s impossible to predict all the challenges and changes the passage of these two bills might bring. What is easy to see however, is that the legislation would make many matters legally clear that previously were up for debate in court. Many of the water claims of the CSK tribes will be dropped in exchange for the deal. Fish and water will be preserved and protected and landowners and industry will have to comply. The CSK Tribes will have the rights to establish access-ways and laws across their territory. There will be a lot of displacement and a lot of confusion, but the legal standing of many disputes will mean it is not worth it to fight in court.

In the event that the upheaval disadvantages some parties or changes their relationship with each other, mediation may be a way to come to some arrangement without violating the law. All Montanans recognize the huge value Montana places on its beautiful environment. BCS are Bozemann mediators with long experience of mediating conflicts involving natural resources and human interests and needs. The current legislation acknowledges the value of Montana’s beautiful natural heritage and the urgent need for action on resources in the face of climate change.

Using practical but psychoanalytically informed strategies, BCS can help you come to deeper agreements that last. We use game theory, which quantifies the interests involved in the dispute and can even factor sentient animals or the living environment as a party in making a realistic assessment of how to resolve a dispute. Rather than ignoring our living heritage, new laws will force us to take stock of them. Bozemann water disputes and water disputes throughout Montana can be resolved quickly, cheapy and more efficiently using mediation.

Who We Are and How We Can Help

We are Bozemann mediators and negotiators with financial, legal, and psychological backgrounds who can analyze your land or water conflict and provide win-win solution sets, using analysis, consultation, mediation, or negotiation. Water is the basis for our human survival, so it’s easy to see how conflicts can quickly become emotional. We recognize that conflicts about water rights can have deep historical roots and require a thorough analysis of sustainable solutions, drawing on the knowledge of experts and parties alike. By employing careful scientific, mathematical, and legal knowledge, recognizing the important values and interests of all stakeholders, and utilizing practical techniques informed by game theory, psychology, and solid strategic and tactical techniques, we can help any and all parties achieve their goals. This approach to conflict avoids costly and protracted litigation, creates sustainable solutions, and develops long-lasting relationships that can pave the way for increased co-operation and better policy on water management and rights. Conflicts over water come in a wide variety of forms: water quality, grazing rights, stream rights, usage rights, community rights, groundwater and surface water and drainage conflicts to name just a few. We can mediate any and all conflicts over water, saving money and crafting solutions built to last for both individuals and the community. During the Coronavirus crisis we are offering accessible, safe remote mediations via videoconferencing platforms like Zoom or Facetime. All remote mediations are completely confidential with the added security of a private, encrypted server. We are available 7 days a week and at urgent notice. Please contact us to see how we can help.

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