By Tim Leeds
BIG SANDY A federal agency held a meeting in Big Sandy Wednesday about how to manage the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
The meeting in Big Sandy was the third of 11 public meetings the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the monument, has held to collect ideas and concerns and answer questions about the plan being designed to manage it.
"We're here to answer your questions and find out issues you think are important and should be addressed in the resource management plan," monument manager Gary Slagel of the Lewistown BLM field office said at the meeting. "We want our plan to actually be your plan as well."
The planning process will take three years, with two more sets of 11 public meetings. The final plan will be issued in July 2005
President Clinton proclaimed the area a monument on Jan. 17, 2001. The boundaries of the monument include about 377,000 acres of federal land, 41,000 acres of state land and 81,000 acres of private land.
The state and private land inside the boundary are not directly affected by the designation. Those lands would automatically become part of the monument if the federal government acquired title to them.
The boundaries bill adopted Wednesday by the House Resources Committee would require an act of Congress before those lands could become part of the monument.
Dana Darlington of Big Sandy, who attended the meeting, said in an interview that his family owns property inside the boundaries, and is concerned about losing access and the ability to get livestock grazing leases on the federal land.
Charles Floyd of Havre said it looks like the BLM is trying to make sure all concerns are addressed in the management plan. Floyd is a member of the Central Montana Resource Advisory Council for the BLM.
"It seems like they're making a tremendous effort to get input from everybody concerned," he said. "A certain element of society doesn't trust anything the government does. Sometimes they have cause, sometimes they don't."
Some issues raised by landowners are addressed in Clinton's proclamation creating the monument. Cattle grazing, for example, is identified as a use that will continue. Other issues, like access, will be decided in the management plan,.
The BLM displayed a map at Wednesday's meeting showing all road in the monument.
Part of the process of creating the management plan will be to identify what roads need to be kept open, Slagel said. Access to private land won't be eliminated, he added.
"It's just not good business. It's not being neighborly and we want to be good neighbors," Slagel said.
BLM plans to work on transportation with the four counties straddled by the monument, Slagel said.
Fergus County has already agreed to work with BLM, and the state has unofficially showed interest, he said. The bureau expects to hear soon from Blaine, Phillips and Chouteau counties.
Mary Jones, campaign manager for the Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, said she hopes many of the minor roads in the monument are eliminated. "Why keep dead-end roads to ancient gas wells?" she said.
While she supports continuing many of the uses of the Breaks, like hunting, fishing, hiking and camping, she said those uses should be regulated.
"I think that's something that's needed," she said.
BLM meetings next week, all from 4 to 7 p.m., will be Monday at the Best Western Great Northern Inn in Havre; Tuesday in the Chinook library; Wednesday in the Cleveland Hunting Lodge near Cleveland Wednesday, and next Thursday in Malta High School.