Note:  we have been asked to distribute this information far and wide, especially to Farm Bureau Members.  Please pass it along.  Anyone want to bet that the Montana Stockgrowers have the same issue?

On this Good Friday, I send you the two following points of perspective.

FARM BUREAU POLICIES

The first concerns the word of an organization that represents tens of thousands of Montanans, Farm Bureau. If you open the attachment, you will see two pages of FB’s official policies. They represent the word of the organization, given on behalf of its members and to its members, about the policies it will pursue in their name. I have highlighted three particular areas, dealing with water rights (symbolized by “WR”) on p. 1, and, on p. 2, the “access issue” raised by the proposed CSKT Compact, and the issue of Water Rights Administration.

The lobbyists for the Farm Bureau (how many I can’t count) working in support of the proposed Compact do so in violation of each of these highlighted policies. For example, regarding water rights (p. 1, lines 35 to 42) the FB polices say (a) abolish the Compact Commission and adjudicate water rights and (b) negotiate a water agreement (obviously not through the ComCom–see a) between the State, the federal government, “the irrigators of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project” and the Flathead Tribes. This policy was adopted in 2013!

The proposed Compact violates this in spades. It circumvents the adjudication process and does not give claimants in Montana Water Court a fair, level playing field for defending their rights; it, obviously, does not abolish the ComCom; and the proposed Compact is not, in anyway, an agreement with the irrigators of the Flathead Project. Through their elected governments, which are the three irrigation districts represented by the Flathead Joint Board of Control, the irrigators by a large majority oppose the Compact! And why wouldn’t they: it gives ownership of the water right for the water delivered by the Project to their land to the CSKT, which does not and has never paid for its delivery or put it to beneficial use!

Similarly, the Compact expands access rights and demands for access across private land unpermitted by the landowner both in the number of people who could invoke it and in the geographic area, both in violation of the FB policies on access. See p. 2, lines 24-28, 33-34, 38-39, 112-114. Under the CSKT Treaty the Tribes’ members may still have access rights to fish at “usual and accustomed places” in common with the citizens of the state, including the right of “erecting temporary buildings for curing.” Rather than negotiate where the “usual and accustomed” places are, the rules of fishing, and the right of erecting buildings, the ComCom simply said, “heck, let’s give ’em water rights all over western Montana!”  And, while carelessly transforming the right to fish into water rights, the ComCom failed to define or specify or regulate the rights that accompany the right to fish–access and building. Finally, the Compact says the people who have the right to use the CSKT water right–which includes these water rights throughout western Montana–include the Tribes, their members, allottees, lessees, and assigns. SB 262, Article IV, p. 26, lines 29-30. All this is contrary to the FB policies highlighted. Yet FB, at least through its lobbyists, continues to actively, adamantly support the proposed Compact.

Finally, on p. 2, lines 131-133, the Farm Bureau policy says this: “Native American tribes should be prohibited from governing or regulating, in any way, lands owned in whole or in part by non-Native Americans or a non-member of the tribe.” This has been the policy since 1998. Yet FB’s lobbyists support a Compact that subjects 24,000 Montanans out of 28,000 citizens living on the Flathead Reservation to a water code unique to that area, drafted primarily by the CSKT lawyers, and under which the CSKT appoint half the regulators, with the theoretical possibility that all of the five-member board could be tribal members. This, too, conflicts with the noted FB policy.

If the Farm Bureau’s members desire it to be taken at their word–the word they advertise to the world in their policies and the word its leaders give to its members about the policies they stand for on their behalf at the Legislature–it should withdraw its support of the proposed CSKT Compact, SB 262.

DAVID WON!

Clearly, this is a David and Goliath struggle. We know the Flathead Tribes (CSKT) paid $22,000.00, through a few tribal corporations and the tribal legal department, at the request of a Senator to try to elect supportive legislators. But there’s way more money in this than that, and it appears to be untraceable (dark money?). The amount of money, almost all unsourced dollars, for TV ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, op eds, lobbyists, pr firms, home pages, Facebook, twitter, tweeter, tweaker and whatever else space age salesmanship tool they think of, must be immense. Some have estimated close to $3 million budgeted for all these things to support lobbying SB 262 through the legislature. Reports are the CSKT expect to get $1 to $2 billion from the federal government if the Compact is fully adopted.  Who is paying? That’s well hidden, and an interesting question.

The Compact itself requires the taxpayers of Montana to pay the Flathead Tribes (CSKT) $55 million! Not much compared to the $1 to $2 billion they hope to get from Congress, but not peanuts. I cannot explain why we would pay that, especially in light of the fact that it is 2,000 farm and ranch families whose irrigation water rights are being taken from them and given to the Tribes…talk about picking winners.

But at the end of the day, all that matters is we can win with your help. If we win, we don’t care whose money they wasted. Hang in there. Help us. Persuade others. Pass this on. David won! We can, too.

Have a blessed Easter!

Respectfully,

Jon Metropoulos, representing the Rocky Mountain Stockgrowers Association, Dixon Melons/Harley Hettick, Doubleshoe Ranch/Bill Slack, Francis Ranch/Perry Francis; 

E.J. Redding, representing Western Montana Water Users Association; 

Abby St. Lawrence, Gary Forrester, and Margaret Morgan, representing the Flathead Joint Board of Control of the Flathead, Mission, and Jocko Valley Irrigation Districts.

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