By HDN Editorial Board
President Clinton a little over a year ago asked Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to further review the nationwide process of protecting more pristine land to include the "Mighty" Missouri River. More specifically, the area known as the "Wild and Scenic" section downstream from Fort Benton to the C.M. Russell Game Refuge.
The river in this area is remote from the standpoint that man for the most part canonly best reach it by way of the river. Coupled with recent vandalism and the Lewis and Clark Trail's upcoming historic anniversary, the "back-burner" subject of wilderness designation has moved to the forefront.
The Forest Service and BLM are also looking at some new higher designation for other land masses in Montana as well. They would like to halt any new trails or even better reduce the number of roads that they must control and maintain.
The common-thread theory is to reduce the stress on the wildlife and the environment. But who are we attempting to save them from? The government and quasi transient celebrity residents want to build fences around groves of trees and build restrooms in the Missouri River corridor to support the anticipated hoards of visitors to the state. History has proven that if you build it "they" will come! We thought the idea was to protect the area in its original state as Lewis and Clark viewed it 200 years ago.
Interior Secretary Babbitt has threatened an "executive order" by President Clinton in previous interviews for a wilderness designation if Montana doesn't cooperate with the lame-duck administration's plans to dictate how Montana should regulate the use of land within its borders. Montana, the fourth largest state of land mass in the union, has relinquished control to millions of acres of land to the federal government agencies in just the last 30 years. People from outside our residency have been influencing many of these decisions. These land designations are decisions that will affect Montana residents for a very long period of time and we believe should be made by the people who actually live, work and pay taxes to support it.
We also realize that these areas do need to be scrutinized for their value to our state, but procrastination and apathy are elements that will continue to allow "carpetbaggers" to make the decisions.
Just keep in mind, Montana, "The Big Sky Country," or Montana, the "Last Best National Park!"