HELENA - Gov. Judy Martz lied when she told President George W. Bush that state-owned lands would be landlocked if the Clinton administration's roadless plan is implemented, state Auditor John Morrison charged during a testy exchange between the two state Land Board members.
Martz's claim is contradicted by a state report showing just 1,320 acres of state land would be wholly surrounded by roadless forest under the proposal and by a federal law guaranteeing the state continued access to its property, he said.
State holdings are not inaccessible as Martz contended in a May 4 letter to Bush, Morrison charged during Monday's board meeting. "The statement in this letter to the president of the United States is materially false.
"That is a very, very serious matter, not only because it constitutes a representation about state lands that doesn't come from this board, but because it represents a false statement," said Morrison, an attorney and Democrat.
Martz, chairman of the board, defended her letter.
"That's a true statement in that letter and I'll stand behind it," the Republican said. "I am the governor and I have a right to write the president of the United States on any issue. That is not an untrue statement. We are landlocked, if it's one acre or if it's 10,000 acres."
The dispute centers on a letter to Bush that Martz made public at the same time she asked to get involved in Idaho's lawsuit challenging the roadless plan. A federal judge in Boise has since ordered the plan put on hold while the suit proceeds.
In the letter, Martz said the state of Montana had "grave concerns over its ability to manage state lands landlocked by the roadless initiative." She said the state uses money from use of the land for schools and access is critical for management of the state forests and producing revenue.
Her document filed in federal court said the roadless plan may hamper the state's ability to deal with fires and floods on its land.
Under questioning by Morrison, Tommy Butler, chief attorney for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, acknowledged that states have an "absolute right" to access its land, even if the roadless plan takes effect.
A report by the agency identified two sections and one-sixteenth of another that would be completely surrounded by roadless federal land. But it also said another 40,000 acres are adjacent to proposed roadless areas and could be affected by "political, social and public expectations" about management of those holdings.
The fact is that none of the 5.2 million acres of state land will be landlocked by the roadless plan, Morrison said.