Great Outdoors Initiative Debuts in Montana


Photo:  Montana Governor Schweitzer, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S Senator Max Baucus, U.S. Senator Jon Tester at the Great Outdoors Initiative near Ovando. Photo By: Aaron Flint, Northern News Network. 

Yesterday, the big guns were in Ovando, Montana as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack came to the Big Sky State to kick off listening sessions on the “Great Outdoors Initiative.”  Joining Secretary Vilsack was the Chief of the Forest Service, top White House officials, both Montana Senators and Montana’s Governor.

Preconceptions varied going into yesterday’s event.  Some folks were excited the Secretary was there to see what great things landowners had done with the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area.  Others were worried that the reason for his visit was more closely tied to a national monument designation memo leaked from the Department of Interior.  The possibilities of what the conversation would hold brought many into the Ovando area, including our own Aaron Flint.  Aaron is the host of the Northern News Network’s daily talk show, “The Voices of Montana.” 

With a “bumping-elbow” crowd, Aaron gave us his initial response to the event.

Many Montanans are fearful that the Obama Administration, at the behest of Environmental Groups, will use the Antiquities Act as President Clinton did on his last day in office, to designate new National Monuments in Montana.

Senator Max Baucus said this week that he is opposed to the creation of new federal monuments in Montana.  Senator Baucus:  “No, no, no!  First of all, I am opposed to the Administration creating Monuments.  I pushed a Resolution stopping the Administration.  That was not a good thing for them to do.”

Aaron had a chance to conduct several interviews while in Ovando.  While talking, he received words of assurance that this was not a federal land grab. 

Ag Secretary Vilsack stated that they wanted to use a bottom-up approach to protect these lands.  This, he added, would not be something top-down like a national monument designation.

Aaron asked Senator Max Baucus what he would tell folks concerned about the relationship between this Great Outdoors Initiative and national monument designations.

That concern is particularly strong  in eastern Montana, where the leaked memo indicated  that Valley County’s Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area was one of 14 areas in the West labeled “good candidates for National Monument designation under the Antiquities Act.”  As detailed in this article in the Glasgow Courier, local leaders are very nervous about the economic impact of possible monument designations, as the President launches his “Great Outdoors” listening sessions.

While some folks from Washington, D.C. may have just stepped on Montana soil for the first time, ranchers and landowners made their presence known at the meeting.  Jay Bodner with the Montana Stockgrowers Association reiterated that going forward with the Great Outdoors Initiative, ranchers won’t support it if it isn’t community driven. 

To save the land, he says you need to save the folks that take care of it.  This includes correcting what is happening with the estate tax.

Jay also addressed the difference between conservation easements and federal land buys.

In talking about the possibility of the national monument designation, he said that has a huge economic impact on rural communities and that it would hurt conservation in the end.

Three more public listening sessions and one youth event are taking place Wednesday morning.


© Northern Ag Network 2010

Haylie Shipp



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