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BLM director to answer monument questions in Malta

 

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BLM director to answer monument questions in Malta

Tim Leeds,[email protected]

Another top-level federal official is coming to north-central Montana next week.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey will be in Malta Thursday to hear and answer questions about a contentious issue: whether plans are in place to create a national monument in the area.

Abbey's meeting, sponsored by the Phillips and Valley county commissioners, is scheduled to begin Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Malta High School gymnasium.

Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said this morning that she has had local residents asking about the issue, and that groups with local members, such as stock growers and grain growers associations, plan to attend.

People need to find out more about the issue, she said.

"I think Hill County at least needs to be aware of what's happening," Bessette said, adding that the Phillips County commissioners expect a full house at the event.

The issue has been a controversy since an internal memo from the U.S. Department of the Interior was leaked in February. Discussed were some 13 million acres of land on which the memo said conservation efforts should be increased, including suggesting that more than 2.5 million acres bordering the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area near Glasgow and the Grasslands National Park in Canada be designated a national monument.

"This cross-boundary conservation unit would provide an opportunity to restore prairie wildlife and the possibility of establishing a new national bison range," the memo reads. "This landscape conservation opportunity would require conservation easements, willing seller acquisitions, and withdrawal from the public domain."

The memo has raised an uproar in Montana, similar to the designation by President Bill Clinton of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in his last days of office.

Opponents of the designation of a new monument have said the fear they will lose their land and livelihoods if it is declared.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said several times that the memo was not talking about plans in motion to create new monuments.

"As long as I am Secretary of the Interior, there will be no recommendation for designation of national monuments in Montana unless there is significant public involvement, discussion, and debate over any such proposal …," he wrote in a letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in a letter dated June 25. "New designation and conservation initiatives work best when they build upon local efforts and input from nearby communities."

Salazar made similar comments while testifying in two Senate committee hearings when asked about the memo by Tester.

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., has said he mistrusts such statements. He sponsored legislation banning presidential declaration of national monuments in Montana, and cosponsored a bill that would require congressional approval of presidentially declared monuments anywhere in the country.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus said he would oppose any secretive effort to create a Montana monument.

"I will oppose any effort to establish a national monument in Montana if it does not have the support of Montanans," he said in a statement. "Montanans expect and deserve transparency, and I'll make sure they get it."

Baucus' office reports that earlier this year he voted for an amendment that would have prohibited a new monument in Montana.

Another top-level federal official is coming to north-central Montana next week.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey will be in Malta Thursday to hear and answer questions about a contentious issue: whether plans are in place to create a national monument in the area.

Abbey's meeting, sponsored by the Phillips and Valley county commissioners, is scheduled to begin Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Malta High School gymnasium.

Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said this morning that she has had local residents asking about the issue, and that groups with local members, such as stock growers and grain growers associations, plan to attend.

People need to find out more about the issue, she said.

"I think Hill County at least needs to be aware of what's happening," Bessette said, adding that the Phillips County commissioners expect a full house at the event.

The issue has been a controversy since an internal memo from the U.S. Department of the Interior was leaked in February. Discussed were some 13 million acres of land on which the memo said conservation efforts should be increased, including suggesting that more than 2.5 million acres bordering the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area near Glasgow and the Grasslands National Park in Canada be designated a national monument.

"This cross-boundary conservation unit would provide an opportunity to restore prairie wildlife and the possibility of establishing a new national bison range," the memo reads. "This landscape conservation opportunity would require conservation easements, willing seller acquisitions, and withdrawal from the public domain."

The memo has raised an uproar in Montana, similar to the designation by President Bill Clinton of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in his last days of office.

Opponents of the designation of a new monument have said the fear they will lose their land and livelihoods if it is declared.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said several times that the memo was not talking about plans in motion to create new monuments.

"As long as I am Secretary of the Interior, there will be no recommendation for designation of national monuments in Montana unless there is significant public involvement, discussion, and debate over any such proposal …," he wrote in a letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in a letter dated June 25. "New designation and conservation initiatives work best when they build upon local efforts and input from nearby communities."

Salazar made similar comments while testifying in two Senate committee hearings when asked about the memo by Tester.

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., has said he mistrusts such statements. He sponsored legislation banning presidential declaration of national monuments in Montana, and cosponsored a bill that would require congressional approval of presidentially declared monuments anywhere in the country.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus said he would oppose any secretive effort to create a Montana monument.

"I will oppose any effort to establish a national monument in Montana if it does not have the support of Montanans," he said in a statement. "Montanans expect and deserve transparency, and I'll make sure they get it."

Baucus' office reports that earlier this year he voted for an amendment that would have prohibited a new monument in Montana.

 
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