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New Monument is a Rotten Idea

By Beacon Staff

So my friend Wild Bill Schneider is calling on President Barack Obama to throw a “few local ranchers” under the bus “to pay back the millions of environmentalists who voted for him” by declaring a “Grasslands National Monument” in northeast Montana? Wow.

If Bill ever tries to introduce himself to one of those ranchers, I’d like to watch.

Yet Bill’s suggestion (July 18 Beacon: “New Monument Might be a Great Idea”) makes sense in a twisted way – the best part of politics is sticking it to people who didn’t vote for you.

Beginning with the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase monument in heavily Republican Utah, former President Bill Clinton designated 21 national monuments when he was president … most of them in the districts of enemy congresscritters. Think that wasn’t fun?

Phillips, Garfield and Petroleum counties are therefore perfect for whatever “legacy” Obama desires. Combined, voters there went 2,248 (73 percent) for McCain over 816 (26 percent) for Obama in 2008.

Whether President Obama ramrods a monument depends entirely on how much respect he has for that shibboleth of American governance: Consent of the governed.

Consent isn’t forthcoming. These “few local ranchers” know monument designation would be just the first nail in their coffins. Ever noticed how Congress never repeals a law, no matter how stupid? No national monument designation has been reversed, either. The most Congress ever does is “reform” existing laws, usually making matters worse. That’s why history shows that National Monuments, especially the big ones, tend to become full-boogie national parks – which don’t allow grazing or hunting. And, if you have property within a monument or a park, the Park Service will be ready the instant you or your heirs become “willing sellers.”

Just like the Missouri Breaks, a grasslands monument would be a death-of-a-thousand-cuts sentence for those Northeast Montana communities within its sphere of influence.

Don’t think so? Tell me again what a huge success the Lewis and Clark “boom” was for the Breaks.

Could a grassland be a Glacier-class draw? Glacier was created so Jim Hill could fill his trains with high-dollar tourists – and we got used to it. Businesses are named “Glacier Somethingorother,” folks brag about living near the “Crown of The Continent,” but let’s be honest: Glacier Park is no more than butter on Northwest Montana’s economic bread.

Glacier doesn’t support itself, but instead is utterly dependent on Congress for operating and capital funds robbed from taxpayers elsewhere. Despite all that support, the economies of Glacier’s real gateway towns, i.e., the prosperous burgs of Hungry Horse, Belton, East Glacier, Browning, Babb, Polebridge, are pretty much boarded up for seven months a year.

Keep in mind that Glacier looks great on the calendar in the cubicle. People want to be there. But Northeast Montana isn’t the kind of country that sells calendars. Sure, there’s five or so weeks of emerald green-up after the gumbo has dried (two weeks in drought years), which I love.

But then, God turns on the blast furnace. Whenever the wind isn’t trying to carry you away, the dang mosquitoes are.

After God freezes out the skeeters in the fall, there might be three weeks before the first blast of real winter. Our best case is five weeks of pretty (in the eye of the beholder, mind you), five weeks of hunting season, for 10 weeks total out of 52 … and when the monument becomes a capital-P Park, no more hunting.

So here’s the scenario: Leaked memos show the World Wildlife Fund, through its front group American Prairie Foundation, fell all over itself to be first in line for funding from Obama’s “Great Outdoors Initiative.” WWF/APF estimated their “Northern Glaciated Plains” scheme, all 3.5 million acres of it, would cost $30 to $300 million. After all those pesky ranchers sell out and go away, would this lovely new multimillion-dollar bison ecotopia be successful?

Well, based on my experiences, once the first crop of citified “ecotourists” discovers their organic citrus bug juice doesn’t work, they’ll pile in their Priuses and promptly high-center in the gumbo. When they whip out the satphone, who will answer the call to drag them out?

Nobody.

I suppose that’s the biggest shame of all. The Malta country is special, all right, but so are the folks who live there. Anyone tough enough to take it year round, in all its seasons, is worth getting to know, and dang sure worth keeping around.

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