By Tim Leeds
Supporters of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument have asked Gov. Judy Martz to reject the findings of a governor's task force appointed to review the monument's boundaries.
Dennis Tighe, president of Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, in a telephone conference call Wednesday, said the task force made its recommendation to substantially shrink the size of the monument without reading the majority of the letters sent to Martz about it. Martz and the task force had said that all public comments had to be submitted in writing to be considered.
Tighe said the process should be terminated because the task force violated its own procedures by reaching a conclusion without reviewing the required written testimony.
"This is an outrage. Not only is it an outrage, it is a violation of fairness," Tighe said.
The task force made the draft recommendations at its meeting in Fort Benton on Tuesday. The recommendations included reducing the size of the monument to basically follow the boundaries of the wild and scenic river designation established in 1976.
Blaine County Commissioner Art Kleinjan, chair of the task force, stressed in an interview Wednesday that the recommendations are only drafts. He said the task force will read every letter before its next meeting in Havre on Tuesday, and the recommendations for the boundaries could change depending on what's in those letters.
Wendy Whitehorn of the Friends of the Monument said Martz received about 1,700 written comments about the monument, and the comments supported the monument by a ratio of 2-to-1.
Craig Sharpe, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Association, said the recommendations are an insult to the public process, to the citizens of Montana and to sportsmen. He said retaining the boundaries adopted by President Clinton in January is crucial to manage wildlife in the area.
Kleinjan said a dominant theme of the testimony at the three hearings the task force held was that private landowners whose property was included within the boundaries of the monument want their land removed. He added that the only way to do that would be to redraw the boundaries back to the wild and scenic river area.
The boundaries for the monument, which contain about 495,000 acres, include about 80,000 acres of private land and 40,000 acres of state land. The wild and scenic river boundaries include about 30,000 acres of private land.
Shane Hedges, Martz's policy adviser, said Wednesday the governor hadn't yet seen the task force recommendations and couldn't comment on them.
Tighe said opponents of the monument continue to perpetuate misinformation about the monument. Private land is not part of the monument, and neither is state land, he said.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, which Clinton used to designate the monument, states that the president has the authority to include non-federal land inside the boundaries, which will become part of the monument if the federal government ever acquires title to that land. The BLM interim management plan, which applies only to the land managed by the bureau, states that BLM will consider acquiring private land or easements that enhance the values of the monument from willing sellers.
Tighe said if the final recommendations the task force makes still include reducing the size of the monument, his group will continue to criticize the process. If necessary, the supporters of the monument will move to the next arena.
"If it has to be Congress, so be it," he added.
Tighe said it would probably take an act of Congress to reduce the boundaries from Clinton's designation.
Hugo Tureck of the Friends of the Monument said supporters of the monument will hold the task force accountable for its recommendations. He said a task force that has its mind made up before looking at the required written testimony makes a mockery of the information-gathering process.
Tureck added that the task force was hoping most of the letters would be opposed to the monument and now they have a small problem; most of the letters were in support.