By HDN Editorial Board
With the designation of the Upper Missouri River Breaks as a national monument, some lousy political gamesmanship arrived in Montana.
After the Central Montana Resource Advisory Council took two years of public testimony and sent its recommendations to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Babbitt recommended that President Clinton designate 377,000 acres of federal land along the last 146 miles of undisturbed land on the Missouri River as a national monument. Clinton did that in January.
Although RAC couldn't come to a consensus about a designation for the land or its boundaries, the information it gathered was used by Babbit in making his recommendation. Hugo Tureck, chair of the RAC at that time, said the monument designation does not contradict the council's recommendations.
Now the new Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, has asked Gov. Judy Martz to conduct new information-gathering, because, she said, community leaders living near Clinton-designated monuments weren't given any input. The task force Martz appointed made draft recommendations this week to reduce the size of the monument back to the land already designated a wild and scenic river, basically just the course of the river itself.
The people who oppose the monument had every opportunity to present their views to the RAC during its hearings. In fact, Tureck said the same people testifying against the monument before the task force came to the RAC meetings and made basically the same arguments. However, the majority of the testimony favored protecting the area now designated a monument.
So the current situation is not a case of people who were left out of the process now getting their say. This is a case of people who didn't like the first outcome being given a chance to undo it. They should once again fail. The new written testimony sent to Martz, which she said is all that will be considered, favored the monument designation 2-to-1.
Most of the arguments the opponents are making have already been dealt with. They say they fear, among other things, losing roads, losing grazing leases and losing management of their property.
The presidential proclamation and the Bureau of Land Management interim management plan state, in writing, that the current uses of the land will continue. The proclamation and interim plan say grazing will continue; hunting, fishing and other recreation will continue; road use will continue; and plans to improve some existing roads and trails will continue.
The same people who managed the land within the boundaries of the monument continue do to so. The BLM is still managing BLM land, the state is still managing state land and the private landowners are still managing their own land. Only the federal land inside the boundaries is actually part of the monument; the other land becomes part of the monument if the owner trades or sells it to the government.
The task force made its draft recommendations before it even read the 1,100 letters in favor of the monument, or the 500 against it. Did it have its mind made up before the testimony even started?
This whole procedure, letting people repeat losing arguments they made before, is a waste of the taxpayers' money and time. The monument is here. The monument should stay. A majority of Montanans apparently want that land protected. The federal land belongs to all of us. The decision shouldn't be swayed by a handful of people with no legitimate reason to oppose the monument designation.
Montana has other problems to deal with, like education funding and low average incomes. Why is our state government wasting time trying to reverse a decision favored by the people?