A federal judge has ruled in favor of a management plan for an area that has stirred controversy since at least the 1970s.
Judge Sam E. Haddon of Great Falls ruled that a management plan designed by the U. S. Bureau of Land Management properly balances multiple uses in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Lawsuits filed by eight groups including the Wilderness Society, the Montana Wilderness Association and Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument had claimed that the management plan had not gone far enough to protect and preserve the scenic, historic and cultural aspects of the region.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed with Judge Haddon’s decision, ” Wilderness Society representative John Todd of Bozeman said this morning. “It’s the Wilderness Society’s goal to see that all the values of the Missouri Breaks are protected. ”
Matt Knox of Winifred, chair of the Stewards of the Missouri Breaks, an organization that intervened in the lawsuit, said his group is pleased.
“We view it as extremely positive, ” he said this morning. “This has kind of been a cloud hanging over us. ”
The area created controversy, first in the 1970s when part of the area was named a wild and scenic river, then in 2001 when President Bill Clinton declared about 375,000 acres of BLM-managed land a national monument. Clinton’s declaration specified it would be managed as a multiple-use area, including for grazing cattle and recreation.
Some local ranchers who own land inside the boundaries of the monument said the plan would hurt their use of the land, which they had helped manage in a healthy manner for generations.
Knox said his group is not completely pleased with the management plan themselves, but they had not pursued opposing it beyond the first level of appeals in the Department of the Interior.
“Basically, we were rejected, but we let it go at that point. We felt we could live with the management plan as it is, ” he said.
“We don’t have big, out-of-state money behind us like the environmental groups do, ” he added. “It’s hard for us to raise enough money to start throwing around lawsuits. ”
Blaine County Commissioner Vic Miller said this morning that, while the commission has no real say over the use of the Breaks monument — “It’s federal, and it’s above our pay grade” — the county government supports multiple use.
“I guess I’m not surprised by the decision, ” he said.
Todd said his group and the others involved in the lawsuit have not yet decided their next step. Appealing Haddon’s decision is a possibility. The groups simply want to make sure that the protection of the region mandated in Clinton’s proclamation is upheld, he said.
“The Missouri Breaks is a special place with many cultural and scenic historic values, ” Todd said. “A lot of people in the state of Montana and across the nation really, really value (it). ”