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Agriculture vs. Industry Debated in Birney

July 30, 2009

Birney, MT - Good food, good music and lively debates are expected this Saturday as hundreds throughout the Tongue River Valley gather in Birney for the annual barbecue. The area has long been known as a farming and ranching valley, but in recent years, coal bed methane development, a proposed coal strip mine and plans for a coal railroad line have threatened to change the landscape.

Singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan is a local who will perform at the gathering in hopes of garnering attention for preserving the traditional way of life.

"It's kind of a battleground for industrialization and agriculture here in southeastern Montana. I think a lot of people around the state aren't aware of those issues."

Scanlan calls the area a cultural treasure for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and many properties have been handed down for generations.

"They've been ranching here since the end of the Civil War, and a lot of the ranches around here are that old. So, it's really an interesting place and it's a really lovely valley."

Backers of the development say it benefits the local economy and helps supply domestic energy. However, Scanlan says farmers and ranchers have been frustrated with heavy industry's effects on their land and way of life, and they have little say in decisions because they don't own the subsurface mineral rights.

The Northern Plains Resource Council sponsors the 18th Annual Birney Barbecue, which begins Saturday at 5:00 p.m. at the R Bar Ranch south of Birney.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT