SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer HELENA
Some former advisers to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are scolding the agency over a lawsuit that challenges a management plan for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in central Montana. Eleven former members of the BLM's Central Montana Resource Advisory Council say their attempts to protect the monument were disregarded, leading to a lawsuit that accuses the agency of failing to protect wildlife and scenery in the 590-square-mi le Upper Missouri River Breaks. The area features part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, sandstone cliffs and a stretch of the Missouri River that has been designated wild and scenic. The former advisers wrote the bureau' s s tat e di re c to r, Gene Terland of Billings, to say the lawsuit filed last month by the Montana Wilderness Association could have been avoided if the BLM had "more accurately interpreted the intent and the letter" of President Bill Clinton's proclamation establishing the monument in 2001. The proclamation summarizes the Breaks' extraordinary wildlife and other natural resources, and says they must be protected. The Resource Advisory Council's 1999 recommendations for management of the Breaks "expressed the sincere intent of its members to preserve the natural, wild and historic values of the monument," says the former members' letter. It goes on to say the BLM rules show the bureau has "a clear preference for commercial and motorized use in the monument." T h e Mo n t a n a Wi l d e r n e s s Association sued the agency in U.S. District Court in Missoula, and The Wilderness Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other groups later filed their own lawsuits. The cases are pending. T h e Mo n t a n a Wi l d e r n e s s Association says rules the BLM adopted in December should be set aside. The management plan for the Breaks will close fewer roads and backcountry airstrips than conservationists wanted closed. They also say the plan is an insufficient shield against natural-gas development and the cattle grazing near the river. The former council members, who sent a copy of their letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said some of them left the advisory board out of frustration that "our efforts to protect the monument were disregarded." The BLM stands by its interpretation of the Clinton proclamation, bureau spokesman Greg Albright said Wednesday. "Whenever we make a decision affecting an area as large as the Missouri monument, and also an area that people have affinity for, we have a wide variation of opinion," Albright said from Billings. "Our responsibility is to try to make the decisions that make the most sense and follow the direction that we have been given, in this case by statute and proclamation." Signing the letter were Hugo Tureck of Coffee Creek; Craig Roberts and Jeff Shelden of Lewistown; Tony Bynum of East Glacier; Arlo Skari of Chester; Mike Aderhold, Randy Gray and Stan Meyer of Great Falls; Jim McDermand of Billings; Mary Fay of Helena; and Bi l l Cunningham of Choteau. Some were on the council as early as 1995 and others as late as 2006.