The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Sierra Holt
Horse Ranch 

Letter to the Editor


August 2, 2017

Editor's Note: The following letter arrived in my inbox on June 28. The delay was unintentional.

I was struck by a paragraph in the Wednesday, May 10, 2017 Glasgow Courier (Pg. 2A A Regular Guy’s Money Problems). “With the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument suddenly in danger of being privatized, we need a representative in Congress who values our public lands. He has spoken out against land grabs and trusts Montana farmers and ranchers to know what’s best for our land.” I find this paragraph striking, because sentence one is in diametrical disagreement with sentence two.

Many of us fought hard against a Valley County National Monument and drew inspiration from the suffering of our neighbors in the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument. Why did we not want to be a Monument? We trusted Valley County farmers and ranchers to know what’s best for their land. We didn’t believe they needed Washington telling them how to manage Montana. We didn’t want their land grabbed, the way the private land within the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument was grabbed.

If the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument ceases to exist, the only land that will be privatized, will be the private land within the monument. Those people will go back to being normal Montana landowners, as they were for generations before their family’s land and private property was suddenly, overnight, a National Monument. The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land in the Monument will continue to be BLM land. The BLM will have fewer lawsuits, more budget freedom, more opportunity to manage the land like normal BLM acreage. Most of us believe our local BLM can manage land well even without being told that it’s a “National Monument.”

The creation of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument was very unpopular. The 1999 Montana BLM Missouri River/Missouri Breaks Special Designation Proposal report stated, “the idea of another federal designation has produced fairly universal opposition... an added designation would do more harm than good...” In 2001, resolutions passed by the Montana Legislature (House-65%, Senate-76%) stated, “Whereas, surveys indicate that a majority of Montanans oppose a new designation... the vast number of acres being considered for designation as a monument does not meet guidelines of the intent of the federal enabling legislation… ‘the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected,’ and whereas, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has violated the pledge that he made during his preliminary trip to Montana… without due diligence in properly analyzing the negative impacts on local and state governmental divisions as well as on state and local inhabitants... the State of Montana respectfully requests that the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Bruce Babbitt, set aside any new proposed designation for the Missouri River or the Missouri River Breaks and support the proved management practices that have maintained the pristine conditions of the Missouri River and the Missouri River Breaks since first traversed by the Corps of Discovery in 1804.” According to the Montana Legislature, the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument was a land grab that didn’t trust Montana farmers and ranchers to know what’s best for our land.

In 2001, someone made a mistake. Either it was President Clinton or it was the Montana Legislature, the people included in the Monument, the Montana BLM, and the Montanans they asked for comment. Can mistakes be undone? Even the Constitution was amended to let us all vote. I suppose that also generated fear that the vote was “suddenly in danger of being privatized”. Change is scary and hard, even if it just undoes a 16-year-old mistake and returns to what worked fine the 111 years before, to what is working fine in the rest of un-Monumentized Montana. When President Clinton declared the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument, he also declared the Pompey’s Pillar National Monument. It’s a small amount of land around an object, as the law requires. I know of no private land included in the Monument, no local opposition, and no one asking that it be de-Monumentized.

What has life been like in the Monument? Nine ordinary Montana ranch families had their private rights usurped by the federal government. They were promised that being Monumentized would not affect them. Instead, they endured 10 years of uncertainty and meetings, hammering out a Resource Management Plan with the BLM. That was a lot of time and money that they were not able to invest in the ecological welfare of their range. No sooner was the process complete, but six non-local enviro groups (groups that misuse environmental law in order to be more profitable than Big Oil) sued to have it thrown out completely and to have the locals and BLM start over from square one. The Upper Missouri River National Breaks Monument ranchers certainly didn’t just contribute to the economy with a little beef and hay. As taxpayers, they paid the BLM to write the Resource Management Plan, they paid for their own meeting attendance, again as taxpayers they paid through the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) for the enviros to sue the BLM, they paid the BLM to counter the suit, they paid to join the legal proceedings as interveners in support of the BLM, again as taxpayers they paid the court to hear the suit and find in favor of the BLM, they paid the enviros to appeal the finding… The promise that the Monument wouldn’t affect the Monumentized ranchers has NOT been kept. The pressure for them to lose their homes and livelihood is continual. (A fascinating graph just released by Headwaters Economics shows total employment around the Monument averaging just over 15,750 for the five years before Monumentization. Immediately after Monumentization, that number fell to about 15,250 and has averaged about 15,500 in the years since.)

The Antiquities Act requires that National Monuments be, “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest.” All of the illegal “enormous swaths of Western land without regard to specific objects or structures” monuments are gigantic red arrows that say, “Sue here! Remove historic occupants here! This is the place to pad your income with frivolous EAJA suits!” So long as we believe that Montanans know something about Montana and have a right to live here, we need to stand united in trying to unravel illegal Monuments.

-Sierra Holt

Horse Ranch


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