UPOM’s story begins with a group of central-Montana ranchers uniting together to fight back against plans by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks aimed at punishing landowners in our area. That was a fight we ultimately lost (for now), but we quickly recognized the potential for the organization we’d built to fill a vital role as a comprehensive property rights group. We’ve since expanded our scope to include issues affecting property owners on a number of fronts.
Like most Montana family farming operations, we’d prefer to focus on making a living at agriculture, but economic pressures have forced us, and a lot of our neighbors, to diversify in one form or another. We’re proud to have our roots in Montana, and we want to ensure that our children’s children will have their roots here too. Our objective is to preserve the unique agricultural heritage that makes Montana such a great place to live, work, and recreate.
We quickly came to recognize that the various efforts afoot in Montana to erode property rights were in direct conflict to the preservation of that ag heritage. Government agencies with their ever-more-restrictive web of regulations and the myriad, well-financed NGOs with their anti-capitalist agendas are making family agriculture tougher by the minute. No one can fight those forces alone, to successfully defend our rights we need to be united.
Our philosophy is that the deterioration of one person’s property rights is really the erosion of everyone’s property rights. Everyone owns something, and whether you own a city lot or a sprawling ranch, your property rights are sacred to you.
In December, 2007, the Montana FWP Commission took an unprecedented step by passing a tentative proposal to limit archery elk permits in the Missouri River Breaks Elk Management Unit and 24 other hunting districts. In spite of overwhelming public opposition from landowners, businesses, and industry leaders, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt it.
FWP saw greater attendance at the public meetings and received more written and emailed comments than for any other issue in recent history; they received 319 comments Against the proposal, 179 For, and 62 were unclassified. The FWP wrote in their Public Comment Summary, “In nearly unanimous fashion, commenting outfitters, landowners, businesses, commerce, local governments and non-resident hunters adamantly opposed limited permits…Among resident hunters, strong support was articulated for limited permits in the Breaks (but) unlike limited permits in the Breaks, resident hunters expressed only limited support for this proposal from a statewide perspective.” Staff recognized a “geographic boundary” to the comments, noting that the further away from the affected area the greater the support for the limits.
When the Commission voted to adopt the limited permits and ignore public comment, the seeds for the formation of a united group of property owners were planted. In attendance at this meeting were Toby Dahl of Roundup and Mark and Deanna Robbins of Roy, landowners, ranchers, and outfitters. They saw the majority of the public’s efforts ignored by the Commission in favor of appeasing special interest groups and were no longer willing to sit back and allow a state agency to ride roughshod over private property rights—thus, United Property Owners of Montana was born.
Mark and Deanna Robbins both grew up in Central Montana. They are third generation Montanans whose family homesteaded in northeast Fergus County in 1917. They live near Roy, where they run a cow/calf operation and a big game outfitting business.
Toby Dahl, a fifth generation rancher, married Jody, a former teacher, in 1998. They are raising the sixth generation on the family ranch outside Roundup. Together they have diversified the family cattle ranch into a working guest ranch (Runamuk Guest Ranch) and offer hunting services in the fall. They also raise speed-bred quarter horses. Believing in the motto “sustainability through holistic diversification”, they are working toward building a ranch that will help nurture the ecological value of the land until the next generation is ready to run Runamuk.
Dave & Cindy operate a 105 year old family ranch with their son Toby, his wife Jennifer and their family. They run a cow/calf and yearling operation and also raise Hancock/ Driftwood Quarter Horses.
Don Proue has spent his life in central and eastern Montana. He and his wife Betty have been married over 36 years and have a son and a daughter. Don and Betty currently lease a ranch in the Bull Mountains, southeast of Roundup, and run a yearling cattle operation. They also own and operate Betty’s family homestead, a farm and ranch operation at Jordan. Don has been an active member of the Musselshell Valley Stockgrower’s Association, and is a former Secretary/Treasurer for that organization. He is also a former state director for the Montana High School Rodeo Association.
Chuck Denowh is UPOM’s policy director. He’s worked in nonprofit management, grassroots development, and public advocacy in Montana for a decade. He grew up on his family’s ranch in Sidney. His wife, Barbara, was raised on a ranch near Grant in Beaverhead County. They live in Helena.
Shelby is one of UPOM’s lobbyists and the tech-nerd of the bunch. She grew up on a ranch in Dillon, MT and now lives in Helena.