Citizens Rally in Montana Against National Monument Designations

Published October 4, 2010

More than 2,000 citizens packed a Malta, Montana school gymnasium in September to protest the Bureau of Land Management’s push to declare a new national monument that would expand federal control of lands in the state.

Citizens Skeptical of BLM
The BLM said at the meeting the monument declaration is merely a rumor and documents leaked to congressional Republicans earlier in the year referring to 2.5 million acres of potential designations under the Antiquities Act was only an internal document, and not an official plan.

Western-state citizens, having seen this happen before, are skeptical of BLM’s denials.

“A BLM memo was leaked several months ago that described the benefits of taking a large chunk of land out of public use via the Antiquities Act, and how to do so, which the law was clearly not meant to do,” said Carl Graham, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute.

“BLM denied it was more than a talking paper or something informal like that, but that’s how the last land grab using the Antiquities Act started as well,” Graham explained.

Western Citizens Unite
Property rights groups from as far away as Washington State helped coordinate opposition and boost attendance at the meeting.

“We had 2,400 people show up,” said Chuck Cushman, founder and executive director of the Washington state-based American Land Rights Association. “There’s going to be an uprising over these monuments, and this meeting was a first-class effort to send a message.”

Carol Saviak, executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights, saw the level of outcry as a positive trend for property rights advocates.

“Given the extraordinary amount of land already in public hands today, these citizens have good reason to protest any additional acquisitions at the federal level,” Saviak said. “It’s exciting to see ordinary citizens taking back ownership of their government. This is exactly what our founders intended.”

Benefits of Private Stewardship
Nancy Ereaux, a member of the Montana Community Preservation Alliance who attended the meeting, said the idea of the government taking better care of the land than private owners was ridiculous.

“When you want to give something to your kids, you want it to be the best you can give them,” said Ereaux. “There is no government agency, no organization, that has the kind of incentives that a grassroots heritage—a real heartstrings attachment—gives you to want to pass the land along in good shape to your kids.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.