After you’ve floated though the Missouri River Breaks, it’s near impossible to forget its incredible natural beauty. Montanans are truly blessed with our public lands that give us access to the great outdoors. To say the least, it’s sad to report that these public land values Montanans hold dear are under attack — ironically, in large measure by our own leaders from Montana supposedly entrusted to uphold Montana values.
Perhaps the biggest threat to our special public lands comes from a bill currently in the House Natural Resources Committee. H.R. 3990 would make it far more difficult to establish new national monuments and would give presidents the power to retroactively reduce the size of any and all existing monuments, opening places like the cherished lands and waters of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument for development and sale.
The bill would also bar presidents from creating monuments that protect “natural geographic features.” Ironically, H.R. 3990 would have prohibited protection of the Grand Canyon, the worldwide symbol of the American West, which was first proclaimed a national monument before it became a national park.
This radical assault on our public lands received full support from New Jersey-born Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte. His unhesitating willingness to dismantle the Antiquities Act flies in the face of Theodore Roosevelt’s wisdom to prevent the commercial development of America’s special landscapes and significant cultural and historical sites. Gianforte’s favorable vote for H.R.3990 places him out of touch with Montanans like us.
That is why the League of Conservation Voters just launched a $244,000 ad campaign in Montana on Facebook, Instagram, Pandora, local news websites and video streaming services to hold him accountable for his actions and alarming disregard for what most Montanans want.
The congressman’s assault on our outdoor legacy doesn’t stop there. Gianforte recently proposed two bills in the House that would eliminate protections for 29 wilderness study areas in Montana, comprising almost 690,000 acres of land, making it the biggest attack on Montana’s public lands in recent history. Should these bills become law, multiple areas that provide clean drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat, and sustain the state's $7 billion recreation economy would be in jeopardy, including nearly 75,000 acres within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
All of this comes in the midst of results from a statewide University of Montana poll announced on March 14, revealing Gianforte’s low approvals (only 30 percent consider him excellent or good), with 37 percent rating his performance outright poor. In that same poll, most Montanans also disapprove of recommendations made by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (another “trusted” leader from Montana) to reduce the size of several of America’s treasured national monuments. The intention to shrink a handful of monuments is essentially an attack on the entire system of monument protection. It’s clear that Montanans are in touch with the irreplaceable values in jeopardy and are passionate about keeping their public lands protected.
The threats to the outdoor places that define us as Montanans are real. For all of us who care deeply about the natural places that make Montana great, we need to keep up the pressure and vigorously oppose the values and actions advocated by Greg Gianforte — before the damage becomes permanent.
The hard fact is that once wild and rugged qualities are stripped from our public lands, it’s irreversible. With anti-public-lands legislation in play, that special place in Montana that you’ve loved since you can remember could soon be in the line of fire and lose the memories you hold dear forever. That would be a sad day for all of us in Montana.