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BLM Advisors: It Could Have Been Different for Missouri Breaks Plan

August 3, 2009

LEWISTON, Mont. - Many of those who helped Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff put together the management plan for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument are displeased with the outcome. Central Montana Resource Advisory Council members have sent a letter to the BLM pointing out mistakes they say were made that led to the plan being challenged in federal court.

Tony Bynum is former chair of the council. He signed the letter because he thinks the agency erred in not recognizing that a national monument should be treated differently than other BLM lands because the goals there are to preserve scenic, cultural, ecological and geological values.

"They were trying to do the best they could to appease everybody. That's what you do on the rest of the BLM land; that's not necessarily what you do when you have a national monument."

Groups pressing the lawsuit object to some of the motorized recreation allowed under the plan, including jet boats and several recreational backcountry airstrips. No other monument in the country has multiple backcountry airstrips, but supporters of the airstrips say they increase public access to the Breaks, and some of them are used for firefighting access.

More than 80 percent of public comments called for keeping the Breaks quiet, pristine and primitive, Bynum says, and 85 percent called for closure of backcountry airstrips. The BLM appears to have ignored the wishes of the majority in trying to give something to everyone, he contends.

"This is a unique piece of property. Lewis and Clark went here; the proclamation said it was relatively unchanged through the White Cliffs area. Why don't we do something special here? They could have done that."

The federal lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, The Wilderness Society, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT