Recently, the U.S. Department of the Interior released it latest land use plan amendments for 11 Western states. These plans were drafted with the intent of saving an already flourishing sage grouse population.
In 2011, DOI Secretary Ken Salazar invited 11 Western governors to draft collaborative solutions to conserve sage grouse habitat in a manner in which the states can lead. Montana and the other states stepped up in true western fashion. After years of hard work and millions of dollars, the end of the process has come, and the time to deliver on that promise by the Secretary is now.
To the surprise of the West and its governors, and in violation of federal law, the Bureau of Land Management land use plan amendments unilaterally rejected the efforts of the states. DOI unleashed a paradigm that removes more than 10 million acres of land from economic public access – a lifeline in the West. Including almost 1 million acres in Montana.
No longer can Montanans travel the public lands without far-reaching travel restrictions. No longer can new technologies be deployed on public lands to develop the next energy resource. No longer can those acres remain available to responsibly drive the Montana economy in ways it has for over 125 years.
DOI has delivered one of the largest federal land grabs in the history of the U.S., in the shortest order and with the least deference to the leadership and residents of Montana who depend and recreate on these lands.
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It is noteworthy that seven of the bipartisan western governors filed formal protests, including Gov. Steve Bullock, whose protest to the BLM said, “The proposed plans fail to take proper and legally required cognizance of Montana’s interest.”
It is without question these land use plans have charted a costly course to litigation. In the federal government’s rush to completion, the cost to the taxpayer will be enormous as they stand in a courtroom defending the indefensible.
We now must turn to Congress to abate this legal collision course. There are multiple efforts in Congress at this moment, prohibition language in spending bills and stand-alone legislation. These efforts to keep public lands open and stave off costly litigation have champions in Montana’s own U.S. Sen. Steve Daines. They are on the leading edge of driving solutions to address the greatest threats to sage grouse – wildfire and invasive species. Sadly, their message and that of the governors were largely passed over for massive land use restrictions that do little to address either.
It is important the efforts of Daines and Bullock continue. The BLM’s outright rejection of the governors’ consistency review conclusively demonstrates that the federal government has no interest in listening to the voice of states. The result is the single greatest assault on multiple-use and access to federal public lands for recreation and economic growth from which Montana may never recover.