Missouri Breaks Monument under review

Charlie Denison

A father and daughter enjoy a day fishing the Missouri River in the Monument. Due to an Executive Order by President Trump, the Missouri River Breaks National Monument, along with more than 20 others, is now under review.
News-Argus File Photo

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of the Interior to review more than 20 national monuments (larger than 100,000 acres), including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

Established in 2001 by President Bill Clinton through the Antiquities Act, the Missouri Breaks National Monument encapsulates around 149 miles of land along the Missouri River, capturing the upper river, the White Cliffs of the Missouri and the surrounding uplands. The monument essentially goes from Fort Benton to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and borders Bureau of Land Management land. The monument encompasses approximately 377,346 acres.

When the monument was proposed, there was local controversy, much of which was caused by the process. According to an April 25 press briefing by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, the Antiquities Act “requires no public input before the designation of a monument.”

“We don’t have to go through the legislative process,” Zinke said at a recent briefing. “The president determines it, and it does not have to go through [the National Environmental Policy Act.]”

At this time, President Trump is only looking at “reviewing” all monuments designated using the Antiquities Act since Jan. 1, 1996 or “that were expanded without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders,” according to the briefing.

“In this case, the administration, as you all know, has heard from members of Congress and states and, in some cases, the designation of the monuments may have resulted in loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access,” Zinke said at the briefing. “And, in the case of public land use, we feel that the people the monuments affect should be considered. That’s why the President is asking for a review of the monuments designated in the last 20 years to see what change, if any, or what improvements can be made, and to give states and local communities a meaningful voice in the process.”

“This executive order gives rural communities across America, again, a voice, as [Trump’s] campaign promised,” Zinke added.


Review and recommendations

Zinke, who was Montana’s lone congressman before receiving the Secretary of Interior nomination in December, is a self-proclaimed “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” and Whitefish native. A supporter of what Roosevelt accomplished by signing the Antiquities Act of 1906 into law, declaring federal lands of historic or scientific value. Going against the Antiquities Act, which Roosevelt signed into law in 1906, may seem a contradiction, Zinke said what’s happened to the Act since the 1990s has changed significantly. In his briefing, Zinke said, “today’s executive order and review of the Antiquities Act over the past two decades is long overdue.”

Zinke expressed his support for this executive order during Trump’s visit to the Department of the Interior Wednesday.

“This executive order does not remove any monuments,” he said. “And this executive order does not weaken any environmental protections on any public lands. Under President Trump’s leadership, I’m looking forward to working with, and being an advocate for local, state and tribal representation and to review the designations and provide recommendations for action where appropriate.”

Zinke, however, is receiving some pushback for supporting this decision. For example, Montana Wilderness Association Conservation Director John Todd is not impressed.

“If Secretary Zinke is indeed a Roosevelt conservationist, as he says he is, then he’ll stand up for Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act with the 77 percent of Montanans who support existing national monuments, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument,” Todd said in a news release. “Protecting a crucial portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail, this monument allows Montanans to connect not only with this pivotal chapter in our state’s history, but to experience and enjoy a hallowed place in our outdoor heritage.”


A mixed reaction from Central Montanans

Winifred resident and Missouri River Stewards Secretary Ron Poertner, a neighbor of the monument, said he was pleased to hear the monument may be reviewed.

“Thankfully, someone finally has the courage to step up and put the spotlight on how badly past presidents have abused use of the Antiquities Act to create national monuments,” he said. “Not only should some monuments – including the Missouri Breaks Monument – be overturned or reduced in size, but Congress should take legislative action to put some serious side boards on the Antiquities Act.”

Poertner added that he’s not sure if “presidents can overturn designations,” but he’d “sure volunteer the Breaks Monument to be the first test case – or at the very least – be reduced in size to match the boundaries of the Upper Missouri River National Wild and Scenic Rivers designation.”

Mary Frieze, a member of the Bureau of Land Management’s Central Montana Resource Advisory Council, had a different reaction.

“It is my thought that many of Trump’s actions are staged to set off a huge public reaction, and this has done just that,” Frieze said. “This will probably impact BLM in Montana. I hope it doesn’t open up review and public debate about the original establishment of the Missouri Breaks Monument in 2001. Although there are some people who are still vocally “anti-monument,” most Montanans recognize that Missouri Breaks Monument is a destination site for outdoor recreation enthusiasts from across the nation – and many Montanans plan their summers around river trips on the Wild and Scenic Missouri.”


Questionable call

The decision to review monuments is creating a stir.

According to www.slate.com, Trump could be the “first commander in chief to revoke a monument designated by a predecessor,” an action that concerns people such as Environment Montana Director Skye Borden.

“This effort is unprecedented and likely unconstitutional,” Borden said in a news release. “Despite presidents from both parties establishing more than 150 national monuments over that last 111 years under the authority of the Antiquities Act, never has a president revoked the status of a monument.”

This is of great concern to Borden.

“One of the things that makes our state and this nation so great is that we have gorgeous landscapes and we have had the foresight and political will to protect them for future generations,” Borden said. “Unfortunately, today’s executive order heads in the exact wrong direction.”

What this means for Central Montana is uncertain at this time, but Winifred Tavern owner Frank Carr said he doesn’t imagine the rescinding or resizing of the monument to make a huge economic impact.

“It definitely would affect tourism a little bit, but not a whole huge amount,” Winifred Tavern Bar Owner Frank Carr said. “We get more business from hunting than tourism.”

At this time, Carr said there hasn’t been much discussion at his establishment about the monument or what this review could mean for it, most likely because it’s too early to know what it means.

“People around here weren’t too thrilled about it to begin with,” Carr added, “so they seem open to the idea of it being reviewed.”




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