An association of area ranchers wants people to be heard Thursday during a meeting about the possible creation of a national monument in Phillips and Valley counties.
Blaine County Extension Agent Mike Schuldt said The North Central Montana Stockgrowers Association is chartering a bus to take people from Chinook to Malta for a meeting with Bob Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land management, to discuss a proposal to create a prairie monument, potentially to be used as a bison refuge.
“The Stockgrowers Association feels that a bus load of people from Blaine County will send a strong message to the BLM director that we do not want another monument,” Schuldt said.
The bus will hold 40 passengers and will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis, leaving Chinook from the Blaine County Courthouse Annex at 5 p.m., he said.
The meeting is set to start at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium of Malta High School.
The concern about a monument arose from an internal U.S. Department of the Interior memo leaked in February. The memo discusses a 25-year plan for the department to try to increase preservation of government-owned land, related to President Barack Obama’s Treasured Landscapes initiative.
Part of the memo recommends turning nearly 3 million acres of federal land into a prairie monument.
Abbey agreed to come to Malta to discuss people’s concerns about the issue.
It is a major topic — lawns throughout Malta are dotted with signs inscribed with messages such as “No Monument” and “Treasure State — not ‘Treasured Landscapes.’”
Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, has said several times that the memo essentially was an internal brainstorming session and no actions are in the works. Any creation of a monument would involve full public participation, he said.
But Tim Cowan, who ranches northeast of Turner with his wife, Cindy, is not so sure.
“I have a sneaking feeling that, yes, they do have things moving forward,” he said. “We saw this down the road on the Breaks a few years ago.”
President Bill Clinton raised ire in the region when, in his last days in office, he created the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Residents of the Breaks and many of their neighbors protested the creation, saying it was against their wishes and that they feared for the future use of their land and their historic use of federal land in the region for purposes such as grazing.
Not all Hi-Line natives are opposed to the idea of another monument.
In a letter to the editor published in Monday’s edition of the Havre Daily News, Barbara Riggs of Missoula, who was raised on the Hi-Line and attended school in Glasgow, said she supports the idea.
She wrote that preserving the prairie should be the goal of everyone, and it could be done in such a way to protect current uses such as grazing.
“It needs no improvements or changes; it only needs government guarantees that it remains unmolested by corporate or other exploitive interests,” Riggs wrote.
But Cowan said he does not believe that would happen.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the president of the United States the ability to create national monuments, allows the president to reserve state- or privately owned land to become part of the monument if a willing owner sells or transfers title to the federal government.
Cowan, much of whose grazing land would be in the western part of the potential monument, said he thinks that will lead to property owners losing their land and livelihood.
“I do I believe they would be forcing us out of here,” he said. “From what I understand they want to turn buffalo loose up here and there’s no room for us.”