HELENA – An idea to set aside more than 2.5 million acres in northeastern Montana and possibly create a new national bison range met opposition Thursday when the state’s only congressman proposed limiting the president’s ability to create national monuments there.
The grasslands in Montana’s northeast are listed in an internal Department of the Interior memo as one of 14 sites in nine Western states being considered as national monuments, and thus protected from development. The memo, first reported last month by the New York Times, said the land being considered would stretch from the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area outside Glasgow to Canada’s Grasslands National Park.
The land “would provide an opportunity to restore prairie wildlife and the possibility of establishing a new national bison range,” according to the memo.
Bison once roamed North America by the millions before they were almost wiped out in the late 1800s. Today, the National Bison Range in western Montana is home to between 350 and 500 bison. To the south, Yellowstone National Park has one of the largest concentrations of the remaining animals, with more than 3,000 bison.
The president can name national monuments through the federal Antiquities Act, but the Interior Department said the internal memo is a product of brainstorming and that any decision about the sites listed is still far away.
Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg opposes the idea of setting aside the millions of acres and introduced a House bill Thursday that would require Congress’ authorization before the president could designate any extension or establishment of national monuments within the state. The bill mirrors a law now in effect in Wyoming.
Rehberg said his bill would avert a “land grab” by the federal government and ensure the Antiquities Act is not abused.
Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said her office is reviewing Rehberg’s bill and had no immediate comment. Sen. Jon Tester’s office said he was also reviewing the bill and the Montana Democrat was assured by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that no decision would be made without public input.
There are two national monuments designated in Montana, the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument and Pompeys Pillar National Monument.
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