Fearful that the federal government’s already pervasive presence in their state could expand dramatically, Montanans are rising up against another looming Washington land grab.
Over 200 angry citizens recently gathered in a high school gymnasium in Lewiston, where Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) told them, according to the Great Falls Tribune (Aug. 21): “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I don’t trust ‘em.”
The “’em” Rehberg referred to are officials at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Earlier this year, a 21-page “treasured landscape” memorandum prepared by top BLM officials was leaked to members of the Congressional Western Caucus. The memo discussed the ides of creating a host of new national monuments throughout the West. One of the perspective monuments would be located on 3.5 million acres of BLM land in northeastern Montana. The monument would stretch from the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area to the Canadian border. BLM officials were so taken by the areas grasslands that they outlined plans to create vast areas for prairie wildlife habitat and establish a new bison range.
The plans were drawn up without consultation with state and local officials in the affected areas, even though the severe land-use restrictions national monuments entail would have a profound impact on the surrounding rural communities. Asked by angry lawmakers on a Senate Appropriations subcommittee earlier this year to explain the BLM document, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar claimed the memo was little more than officials engaging in a dialogue.
But the detailed plans for monument designations contained in the memo reveal that a lot of thought and planning went into the document. Local residents fear that environmental groups, from whose ranks many Obama administration Interior Department officials have been drawn, had a hand in drafting the document.
Phillips County Commissioner Lesley Robinson told the gathering in Lewiston that ranching families would suffer if the federal government started buying up private land adjacent to BLM land to create the monument. She added, according to the Great Falls Tribune, that her county is heavily dependent on natural gas development, which a monument’s land-use restrictions could curtail.
Distrust of Washington’s thirst for land and control is widespread and well-founded. Shortly before leaving office in 2001, President Bill Clinton used the federal Antiquities Act via a presidential proclamation to create the Missouri River Breaks national Monument. In 1996, Clinton administration officials, working closely with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah, without consulting the Utah congressional delegation or any state and local officials. The area beneath the Utah monument is estimated to contain 62 billion tons of clean-burning, low-sulfur coal, between 3 to 5 billion barrels of oil, and 2 to 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. As a result of the monument designation, all of the resources are off limits to development.
Utah Sen. Orin Hatch (R) referred to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument designation as the “mother of all land grabs.” Montanans fear they may be next.