All the fuss about the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument has gone on far too long.
Regrettably, now Denny Rehberg, Montana's Republican congressman, has entered the fray and he might have checked his facts better before he stepped in.
Rehberg sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton last week, taking the side of some property owners next to the Breaks who oppose the monument designation.
When President Clinton designated the monument at the end of his second term, some 80,000 acres of private land were included within the monument boundaries with the provision that they would become part of the monument if the owners ever decided to sell or give the land to the federal government. Otherwise, it would take an act of Congress or another presidential proclamation to make the land considered part of the geographical and ecological unit of the Breaks a part of the monument.
Clinton used his power under the Antiquities Act of 1906, as many other presidents have done, to create the Breaks monument and many others in his last year in office. Rehberg cites a section of the Antiquities Act when he argues to Norton that private land should not and cannot be part of the monument. The line he repeats says the president may declare land owned by the government a monument. Thus, Rehberg reasons, private land cannot be included as well.
Rehberg doesn't mention that the sentence in the Antiquities Act also says the president may reserve as part of a monument land not owned by the government. Since 1906, that line has been interpreted to mean that the president may include private land inside the boundaries of the monument although the land doesn't become part of the monument until the government owns the land.
What does this mean to the landowner? Nothing, except that the resale value of the land will likely go up. Contrary to what Rehberg says, that private land inside the monument boundaries is not a part of the monument.
The Antiquities Act does not allow regulation of private and state land reserved for the monument. In fact, the only agency regulated by the reservation of the land is the federal government. If the government buys the land, it becomes part of the monument. If not, nothing happens no loss of rights, no change in usage, no different regulation.
People like Rehberg and Gov. Judy Martz, who are working to oppose the monument status, need to get over this issue. Montanans and people elsewhere have demonstrated their view on the subject. They are, after all, the owners of the federal land the monument sits on. The Upper Missouri Breaks should be and are a national monument.