By Tim Leeds
Mat Millenbach, the new state director of the Bureau of Land Management, visited the Havre BLM field station office this morning on his way to a resident advisory council meeting in Malta.
Millenbach, who was appointed to his position last month, said he is on an orientation tour throughout the state and in the Dakotas. He said the BLM is a very decentralized organization and relies heavily on local offices. He said he is trying to visit the local offices to meet the employees and gain information on local issues.
One major issue the BLM is dealing with is the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upholds federal grazing regulations removing guarantees of priority for bona fide ranchers for grazing leases on federal land. The regulations also potentially give the BLM ownership of improvements on the leased land.
Millenbach said all the ruling does is affirm regulations put in place five years ago. He said it mainly concerns the number of livestock that can be run on public land, and grazing improvements that can be done.
Millenbach said they have been working on the essence of the regulations, and the ruling will affect administrative issues. He said they will work with resident advisory councils to settle issues in the implementation stage, and does not anticipate any major problems.
Millenbach recently accompanied Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt on his tour of the state to receive public input on the proposal to designate areas of the Missouri River a national monument. He said Babbitt was collecting information about the needs of local communities and the impact of current use and the proposed designation of the site.
Millenbach said as the years go by the river is becoming more popular, with more people using it and more people doing multiple day trips down it. He said the main issue is pressure for more places to camp on the river. He said they are talking to landowners about land use easements to spread the use out more.
Millenbach said a major concern is the anticipated increase of use during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial celebration from 2004-2006.
Millenbach said the function of the state BLM would be management of the issue. He said the actual designation of the river would be by presidential proclamation, and Babbitt's role is in recommendations to the president. He said Babbitt is pleased with the recommendations made by resident advisory councils in the state.
Millenbach said there are many ways to gain land for public use on the river. He said they can use buy-sell agreements, buy conservation use easements, and land trades to gain areas for use.
Millenbach said there are 8 million acres of BLM land in Montana. The Havre Resource Area contains more than 600,000 acres from Glacier County to Chouteau County north of the Missouri River, said Havre Area Manager Tom Billingsley.
Millenbach said the federal ownership of land dates back to the time of the Louisiana Purchase, and to treaties with Native Americans affirming federal ownership, to re-purchases of land that had been homesteaded earlier in this century.
Billingsley said the local office has a variety of duties in managing the federal land in its area. He said the primary function is in managing grazing on federal land, and they also deal with drilling of natural gas, scattered recreational use in the area, and providing wildlife habitat.