By Tim Leeds
Opponents of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument rallied outside the Holiday Village Shopping Center this morning as the task force appointed by the governor to study possible changes to the monument prepared to meet inside.
"Make no mistake about this, this is about freedom," opponent Clay Young of Lewistown said.
Young said the inclusion of about 80,000 acres of private land within the boundaries of the monument designated in January by President Clinton is an infringement on the rights of the property owners.
"The one thing we want to remember is we consider this an infringement on our personal property rights," Tom Walling of Winifred said.
Inside, the task force began reviewing the preliminary recommendations it had previously prepared for Gov. Judy Martz. Martz appointed the group after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton asked state officials to determine local leaders' opinions about various monuments designated by Clinton.
The task force made a preliminary recommendation last week that the boundaries of the monument be shrunk from 495,000 acres to about 90,000, the area that received a wild and scenic river designation in 1976.
Critics complained that the task force reached its conclusions without reviewing the 1,700 letters of written testimony. About 1,200 letters were in support of the current monument.
Task force chairman Art Kleinjan began todays meeting by stating that the task force has now gone over the written testimony and would take up each of its recommendations to see if any should be changed.
He noted that when the task force first met, he asked that people explain why they supported or did not support the current monument designation. He said much of the written testimony did not provide reasons for the writers' points of view.
Task force member Matt McCann, a state representative from Harlem, said one of the issues the task should address today is why private land should or shouldn't be included within the boundaries.
President Clinton's proclamation designating the area a monument and the Bureau of Land Management's interim management plan state that the monument designation only applies to federal land within the boundaries. If the government acquires title to any private or state land within the boundaries, it would become part of the monument.
At the rally, Ed Butcher of Winifred, whose son Trevis organized the rally, said including private land inside the boundaries will affect the value of the land and the rights of its owners. He said just being surrounded on most sides by the monument will reduce the land's value.
Butcher said the history of federal control of land and national monuements shows that the rights of the property owners will be affected.