By Tim Leeds 

Rehberg, Caucus want to designate land for more use


Montana's Rep. Denny Rehberg joined members of the Congressional Western Caucus in sending a letter last week asking the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to help Congress identify land for increased use, rather than designating land for permanent protection.

"In Western states like Montana, our land plays a huge role in our economy, " Rehberg said in a release. "Secretary Salazar was just in Montana, so he saw first-hand that we need the federal government to become a willing partner in job creation.

"Whether it's resource development for energy and timber or public access for fishing, hunting and hiking, there's no one who knows how to manage Montana's lands better than the people who live, work and play here, " Rehberg added. "It's time to put partisanship aside and find a way to cooperate in order to move our state forward. "

The letter was sent as a response to a letter Salazar sent Congress asking for input on identifying "(Bureau of Land Management) -managed public lands where there is strong support in the local community and among elected officials for permanent protection. "

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In his release, Rehberg cited a leaked memo in which the BLM discussed possible ways to protect federal land and possible sites for protection, including a north-central Montana region that could be designated a national monument as evidence of BLM's plan to "lock up" more land.

He also cited a push by the Interior Department to revive its ability to designate lands as wild lands.

He also listed the creation of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in the last days in office of President Bill Clinton.

Rehberg has sponsored legislation that would require Congressional approval of executive action designating federal land as monuments in Montana.

In the letter, the Caucus told Salazar that designation of areas supported by members of the local community and elected officials for wilderness designations should be advanced by the members of Congress representing the region, not the Interior Department.

"From the content of your letter, we can only conclude that the Department of Interior remains intent on spending its time and limited resources on efforts to hinder job creation in the west, " the Western Caucus' letter says. "While it may be possible in some cases for new wilderness areas to result in economic benefit and new jobs, often that is not the result. "

As a counterproprosal, the caucus wrote, "we respectfully ask that you help identify legislative proposals we have put forward that the Department of Interior could support to create jobs in the west, " such as converting wilderness areas to multiple use, or easing restrictions to allow more energy development.


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