Foundation: Montana’s Constitution

Montana’s Visionary Constitution: Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is committed to protecting Montana’s environment by using the ‘watershed approach.’ One of the critical ways we are able to protect watershed health is by assuring that the State complies with key provisions of the Montana Constitution. Written in 1972 and ratified by the voters that same year, the Montana Constitution endows Montanans with rights surpassing, in some cases, those provided under our federal Constitution.

The preamble to the constitution sets the stage: “We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.”

The Guarantees —

A Clean and Healthful Environment: One of the most important provisions in the constitution is Article II, section 3: “All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment …” The Montana Supreme Court has interpreted this constitutional provision as a fundamental right of citizens, stating: “…the delegates’ intention was to provide language and protections which are both anticipatory and preventative. The delegates did not intend to merely prohibit the degree of environmental degradation which can be conclusively linked to ill health or physical endangerment. Our constitution does not require that dead fish float on the surface of the state’s rivers and streams before its farsighted environmental protections can be invoked.”

A Right to Participate: Framers of the Montana Constitution recognized that, alone, a fundamental right to a clean and healthful environment fails to empower citizens. Therefore the Constitution also guarantees the right of citizens to participate in governmental decisions and to review documents in the possession of local and state governments.

Reclamation of Lands: Last but not least, Framers of the Montana Constitution recognized the damage that natural resource development can have on the environment. Article IX, section II requires that “all lands disturbed by the taking of natural resources shall be reclaimed.”