Brainstorming Rural Cleansing

By Beacon Staff

Bureau of Land Management director Robert Abbey will be visiting Malta on Thursday, Sept. 17. The idea of a 2.5 million-acre, $30- to $300-million “Buffalo Commons” national monument (a proposal that became public knowledge only when part of a secret Department of Interior memo leaked in February) has the natives a little restless. Abbey has been sent to placate them.

However, monuments are just a small part of the secret memo’s puzzle. Aptly entitled “Our Vision, Our Values,” all 21 pages of the memo finally leaked in early August. Vision is not, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said, mere “brainstorming,” but an audacious, 25-year, multi-billion-dollar, multi-million-acre, three-part strategy.

The first part of the strategy is to restrict allowable uses on public lands, preferably through legislation. If not, “BLM therefore particularly proposes that the Administration use the BLM’s land-use planning process to identify the management actions, including possible mineral withdrawals, necessary to protect sensitive resources […]”

Second, BLM will attempt to “rationalize” ownerships, swapping checkerboards, and buying “important” adjacent lands. Vision specifically mentions not only “roughly 128,800 acres of inholdings in BLM-managed National Conservation Areas (excluding the California Desert) and 283,857 acres of inholdings in BLM-managed National Monuments,” but $24 million to buy out ranches in the Missouri Breaks.

Third, BLM will manage the “consolidated and expanded landholdings at their natural scales.” What are “natural scales?” Well, there’s a 2005 “Ecological Monographs” article that costs $14 to download.

Vision notes that of BLM’s 264-million-acre total, 127 million acres are already under conservation restrictions. Vision’s authors nonetheless found “some 130- to 140 million acres,” an area “roughly equivalent in size to Colorado and Wyoming combined,” to further be “worthy of consideration as treasured lands.” Do the math … 127 plus 140 is 267 million, more land than BLM now administers.

So what’s the real Vision? BLM is to “rededicate itself,” utterly abandoning its multiple-use mission and history, eliminating all economic uses of public lands in favor of becoming a truncated, primitive park service.

While this bizarre strategy is targeted mostly at “public lands” states, there’s more. Because pony-huggers have completely wrecked wild horse policy, BLM also proposes to buy land for “Wild Horse Preserves” in the East and Midwest. Doing so would “expand appreciation of BLM’s conservation mission to new areas.”

Of course, without funds to buy off ranchers, retire grazing and mineral leases, and buy horse ghettoes, the Vision all falls apart.

So … where’s the money? Congress is working on it. The House has already passed a bill, the CLEAR Act, sponsored by Congressman Nick Joe Rahall (D-West Virginia). Despite gaping deficits, CLEAR would make the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), set to expire in 2015, a permanent entitlement. It would also “fully fund” LCWF, something that Congress has done only twice since LWCF was created in 1964, mainly because many on Capitol Hill see no logic to expanding an already-mismanaged federal agency empire.

Greens have always viewed LWCF as their pet entitlement, and are lobbying feverishly to score this jackpot of money.

The bottom line: $900 million a year, guaranteed forever, of which $450 million a year would be strictly for the Feds to buy up private lands and shut them down. BLM’s share would be $75 million – meaning a rural cleansing of the Breaks ranching community would need only four months worth of funding. What do the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to do with their shares?

Since the House has passed CLEAR, what about the Senate? Sure enough, companion LWCF legislation has been introduced.

What about Montana’s senators? Do they support washing away Montana’s public lands cowboys with a river of money? Do they understand that Salazar’s little “brainstorm” will blow not only much of Eastern Montana, but large parts of the American West, right off the map?

Well, while both Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus have given lip service to opposing a new monument in northeast Montana, neither is on record as opposing a permanent, fully funded LWCF program.

In fact, both are co-sponsors of the LWCF legislation. It will be interesting to see how they vote … and how Montanans vote later on.