By Don Pilotte / Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Montana Properties
Land ownership brings a variety of responsibilities to owners, especially if the land is a larger parcel, in excess of a couple of hundred acres. Commonly asked questions involve taxes, insurance and perhaps road maintenance costs, but other big-ticket items are sometimes overlooked.
Identification and control of noxious weeds are fairly well known issues in the western U.S. In Montana, for example, most counties have a weed control expert or a staff of people skilled in the identification and control of noxious weeds. If a landowner does not, or cannot, control an identified problem with noxious weeds, that county will take appropriate actions and will bill the landowner for those control measures implemented by the county.
Lesser known, but necessary work centers on maintaining forest health, if a property is in a wooded area. Control of invasive pests, which can be fatal to a forest, has become more of an issue in recent times. Aerial spraying, selective thinning of impacted trees, or placing phenome patches on trees can be an unanticipated cost that can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars. Forest management for fire control—sometimes dictated by insurance companies—can also increase land ownership costs.
Another unanticipated cost can be compliance with federal rules or statutes.
Water pollution is a subject that does not often come to mind when considering most land purchases; however, it’s a subject that has recently been the focus of a lot of debate and publicity.
The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and enforcement has been up to the Environmental Protection Agency—this act gave the agency the authority to regulate “navigable waters” in order to keep the water clean. In fact, many large streams and rivers are considerably cleaner now than in the recent past. The act addressed larger bodies of water, but not smaller streams, wetlands or even intermittent sources of water that eventually flowed into these navigable waters.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that resulted in expanding the EPA’s authority to regulate any wetlands and other water features with a “significant nexus” that could impact clean water in navigable waters. The Obama administration in 2015 finalized the Clean Waters Rule, aka Waters of the United States or WOTUS. This 400-page document was created to provide some guidance to the EPA when looking at smaller water sources that eventually flowed into navigable streams.
Many environmental groups heralded WOTUS as the next tool to help clean up and keep the nation’s waters clean, while some groups, including agricultural and industrial interests, opposed WOTUS as too overbearing.
The Trump administration viewed WOTUS as over-regulation and an executive order was signed to take measures to review and eventually repeal WOTUS regulations. Interestingly, WOTUS has not yet been implemented due to ongoing litigation aimed at stopping it from going into effect.
Investigation and due diligence must be undertaken when considering the purchase of vacant land, just as investigation is required when purchasing a residence.
For more information on farms and ranches in Montana, contact Don Pilotte at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties in Big Sky at (406) 580-0155, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.