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September 19, 2018

Monumental Monuments

By: Bill E Beck

Monumental Monuments

I think back to days gone by, specifically those early, formative years guiding raft and fishing trips on the Snake River through Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. What great country that is, and was, for me. Needing to know a bit of the area's history I learned that Grand Teton National Park had been initially, almost a half century before I arrived on the scene, a National Monument, declared so by the president in 1929 by way of the Antiquities Act of 1906. That act allowed the president to set aside "land to be protected as important historic, cultural, and ecological sites without the approval of congress." There's some fine print added to the original Antiquities Act and some of that has been the subject of modern day interpretation and discussion. Nevertheless, to this day, the president of the United States is allowed to set aside land or water that he deems is needing of protection. In recent history, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all added numerous monument status to lands and water that were deemed in need of increased protection as National Monuments. Specifically, in 2016, during his last year in the White House, Barack Obama set aside the Bears Ears country in Utah, more than 1.3 million acres of land as a national monument. Then the fun started.

During President Trumps first year in office he directed the Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review some of the existing monuments with an eye toward reducing the sizes of many of which he felt were not being used in a manner consistent with the original intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The 1.3 million acre Bear Ears National Monument along with the 1.6 million acre Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument have taken center stage following the review and may very well be in the process for severe reduction in size in the year ahead. The Bears Ears is projected to go from the 1.3 million acres down to 120,000. That's quite a change! A drastic reduction in acreage is also planned for the Grand Staircase- Escalante as well. Needless to say, in many quarters, and most certainly among every environmental organization known to man, there has been a loud outcry of opposition to the administrations actions. "America's conservation legacy defines us and is the envy of the world. Today is a dark day for that legacy. "Teddy Roosevelt is shaking his fists. Undermining one of our bedrock conservation laws and selling out to industry flies in the face of T.R., who president Trump said he wanted to emulate." Oh boy!

And here's where it gets interesting. Ironically, or coincidentally, I'm not sure which, while at the same time taking aim at the two monuments in question, Secretary Zinke proposes that the Badger Two Medicine country of northern Montana become a National Monument, to the tune of 130,000 acres of country that begins six miles from where I'm writing this blog as we speak! Bear Creek Ranch lies just six miles to the west of the northeast border of the, at this time, informally proposed Badger- Two Medicine National Monument. More than a few of you reading this blog, many of you guests of ours, or close friends at Bear Creek Ranch over the years, have ridden on more than one occasion into the heart of the Badger- Two Medicine, with us. You know the country of the Badger- Two Med as well as many others. You've been there. You also know it's some pretty special country, raw, rugged, spectacular, and drop dead beautiful. And you never saw another soul on a ride you did with us. That country is still quiet, very lightly visited, and even more importantly, well taken care of by those of us that do visit. And that's the beginning of the rub, the conflict, the internal turmoil that lies right below the surface of potential monument designation. At first blush, "protecting" the Badger- Two Medicine Country seems like a no- brainer. After all, this nation's conservation legacy lays in no small part on the efficacy of the original Antiquities Act and the intent of that act is to protect our public lands. I get that. BUT. Does the Badger-Two Medicine country need the additional level of protection that National Monument status would provide it, if any?

What is so important to recognize at this point in time is that the Badger-Two Medicine country is protected at many levels because it is in the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Badger Two Med has been given increased protection over the years from oil and gas exploration and the use of motorized vehicles. Both of those added levels of regulation were won after lengthy battles on the public and legal stage. The Badger Two-Med country works very well under the "multiple use" directive of the Forest Service. Folks hike, fish, hunt, and ride freely, without federal restriction. There is also a limited amount of livestock grazing also permitted. In my opinion, and I have been a long time and ardent user of the country in question, the existing levels of protection in the area work real well for about everyone. The glaring exception to that last statement is the role the Blackfeet Tribe plays in the present and future of the area. I'll add to that thought in the following paragraphs.

At this point I'll cut right to the heart of the matter. The Badger-Two Medicine is everything it is, beautiful, majestic, raw, and rugged because it is not a monument. It has not nor should be added to National Monument status because it will have a bulls eye painted on it both in this country and around the world. A bulls eye of visitation that it doesn't need. The Badger-Two Med is what it is because it has been left alone, unlike our National Parks and Monuments, and monument status will change that irreversibly. If the Blackfeet Tribe desires more use or management authority in the country then I say bring it to the table.

Pushing back on National Monument creation anywhere is hard for me to do. My natural instinct is go all in on monuments and provide the kind of protection all our remaining wild places need and deserve. But I am also seeing a change in the character of many of our wild lands as they continue to get more and more visitation and use. This past summer the visitation in Glacier National Park went well beyond the 3 million mark, almost double the use I normally noted not many years ago. Trails are crowded as are park facilities. And the irony to those thoughts is that Glacier National Park is fully visible and directly across Highway 2 from the north boundary of the Badger Two-Medicine. We look north into the park as we ride just to the south of it and we rarely see a soul on our side of the tracks. And those souls rarely see us!

I cringe at the thought of National Monument protection in the Badger-Two Med. That country is good just the way it is today. I don't want that to change nor do I suspect that current users of the area would embrace that change either. What I fear is that the enticement of the false narrative of added protection in Monument status will blind many folks to the reality that National Monuments bring, and that is potentially immense additional visitation and use.

As I've heard on many occasions in my life when looking at a difficult decision that doesn't need to be made, the wise man sayeth; "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Badger-Two Medicine Country ain't broke. It is good the way it is. It doesn't need fixing, certainly not to the extent that Monument status would bring.

There's a whole lot of stuff in this world I know very little about. But I do know a whole lot about the Badger-Two Medicine Country. I know that monument designation of that country will change it forever, and not for the better. Bill Beck, Winter 2017

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