In a letter sent to the BLM two days ago, eleven former resource advisory council members who worked with the BLM to create a management plan for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, explained the BLM made a mistake by overlooking public comments in addition to consensus recommendations from RAC members.
The letter states, "The Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument is a special place and we served on the council to help see its future secured. We had hoped for a better management plan than what the BLM delivered for the monument."
The letter was written in response to a legal challenge for the final Missouri Breaks decision filed by a conservation group two weeks ago. Since then, several other groups, represented by Earthjustice, have pressed their longstanding interest to protect the monument in court, including Friends of Missouri Breaks Monument, The Wilderness Society, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
"For eight years we tried every avenue possible to work this out with the BLM," said Mary Jones, the director of the Lewistown-based Friends group. "But after countless public meetings and public comment periods, the BLM is dead-set on treating the Monument like any other piece of BLM land."
BLM decisions that claim to balance protections with access are in reality, just window dressing allowing an overemphasis on motorized recreation. The final decision opens an area set aside for its solitude and scenic characteristics to recreational aircraft, jetboats, and two track roads which would both harm the monument and set a terrible precedent for other national monuments managed by the BLM.
"Unlike every other national monument, the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is the first to designate multiple backcountry airstrips, and the first to refuse to publish the monument boundary in its planning documents," said Bozeman-based Janelle Holden of The Wilderness Society. "Instead, the Breaks plan focuses on maintaining motorized use and undermining the historical, rugged experience for which the monument was designated."
Before the BLM published its final plan, Governor Brian Schweitzer also called on the BLM to protect the Upper Missouri Breaks Monument. Schweitzer wrote, "as a scenic, cultural, ecological, and geological trust, the monument is now a source of great state pride, and a treasured part of our Montana heritage. In future years it will grow as a major regional economic asset. The monument's assets need to receive real protection by BLM, as called for by the Presidential Proclamation establishing the monument."
The support for a real conservation vision is also reflected in the views of the many Montanans who participated throughout the planning process. A 2006 statewide poll of 500 Montana voters showed that 81 percent supported protecting the natural resources and traditional recreation values of the monument. Meanwhile the BLM reported it received more than 67,000 comments on this issue since 2002 of which:
- More than 80 percent wanted the Breaks kept quiet, pristine and primitive
- 84 percent called specifically for habitat protection
- 86 percent urged the BLM to close unnecessary roads and establish a minimal road network
- 85 percent called for the closure of back-country airstrips within the monument
"The proclamation establishing the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument requires BLM to develop a management plan that protects the historic integrity of the landscape, one that has remained largely unchanged since Lewis and Clark traveled through it nearly 200 years ago," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Unfortunately, the management plan adopted by BLM back in December, 2008 does not provide adequate protection for these sensitive landscapes and other historic resources. We hope this lawsuit gives BLM an opportunity to revisit its management plan for this irreplaceable historic landscape."
The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument was established in 2001 as a key member of the National Landscape Conservation System. This spring, Congress approved legislation that makes the National Landscape Conservation System permanent, which will protect and restore the most scenic, ecologically and historically significant lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. The system, the first of its kind in 50 years, consists of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails and other protective designations totaling over 850 sites and 26 million acres. The Conservation System protects critical habitat for fish and wildlife, provides access to world-class hunting and fishing, and offers challenging recreation for the self-guided adventurer.