By Tim Leeds
Friends of the Upper Missouri Breaks Monument are not pleased with Gov. Judy Martz's intention to press for congressional action to remove private land from within the monument's boundaries.
"It's the Here we go again' with Governor Martz," Dennis Tighe, president of the Friends of the Monument, said today. "She has avoided paying attention to the public voice, which she heard from an overwhelming number of Montanans who were in favor of the monument as designated."
Todd O'Hair, the governor's natural resources policy advisor, said today that Martz is a strong advocate of private property rights, and that was a key factor in her decision to push for congressional action.
"There's a number of reasons," he said. "The most important reason is that the private landowners have objected to it. Whether rightly or wrongly, they've objected."
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said he has written legislation to exclude private property, and ensure grazing, water and property rights for landowners.
The boundaries of the monument contain about 377,000 acres of public land administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management, about 40,000 acres of state land and about 80,000 acres of private land.
Martz told representatives of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument task force Wednesday that she'll ask Montana's congressional delegation for legislation that would remove private property from the monument's boundaries.
Martz had appointed the task force after U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton asked officials in Western states to be sure that local leaders were heard about several monuments designated by President Clinton before he left office in January.
The task force, after holding several public hearings, recommended that Martz request that the boundaries of the monument be severely reduced to an area now included within the Breaks' wild and scenic river designation.
O'Hair said Norton recently told the governor that because of President Bush's priorities after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, it would be inappropriate to take the issue of the monument's boundaries to the president. But, he said, Martz felt it was appropriate to do something about the issue so she is now asking Congress to take it up.
"It's time to put this debate to bed and move on with life," he said, "so we're going to get what we can out of it."
O'Hair said the task force only intended to collect information when it held the hearings.
"People are trying to turn this into a public opinion poll and it never was that," he said. "The people of central Montana spoke very clearly and very loudly. The closer you got to the monument area the stronger the opposition was."
Tighe said having private property within the boundaries doesn't affect the property or the rights of its owners. If the land is not inside the boundaries, he said, it would take special presidential or congressional action to make it part of the boundary if the federal government acquired title to it later on. The only reason it was included within the boundaries was to prevent a special action from being needed.
For example, Tighe said, there is about 160 acres of private land inside the boundaries that contain a Kid Currie hideout. Right now, if the government bought that land or it was donated to the government, it would automatically become part of the monument. If Martz's actions are successful, it would then take special action by Congress or the president.
Tighe is concerned that someone will try to change the boundaries by using a rider on a piece of legislation without letting the public know.
"I think that would be the biggest disservice if something like that was intended," he said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.