Groups Fight for Upper Missouri Breaks

     MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – Four environmental groups say a federal management plan for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument allows recreation that will “destroy and degrade” the “solitude and splendor” of the monument.

     The Wilderness Society, Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument and two other groups sued the Bureau of Land Management in Federal Court.
     A majestic landscape largely unchanged since Lewis and Clark explored it in 1805, the 377,000-acres, designated a National Monument by President Clinton in 2001, includes 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River, three sections of which are designated as “wild and scenic.”
     Shaped by glaciers and volcanic activity, the monument provides habitat for elk, bighorn sheep, sage grouse, prairie dogs, fish and birds, some of them threatened or endangered. Cottonwood gallery forests grace the river areas, and the monument is replete with historic trails, homesteads and teepee rings, which the groups claim have not been adequately inventoried.
     The BLM violated several environmental laws by providing inadequate environmental analyses and failing to consider alternative management plan that would provide protection worthy of a national monument, the groups say. Plaintiffs include the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Oil and Gas Accountability Project.
     They say the BLM plan “emphasizes providing visitors with opportunities to experience the Monument,” in the bureau’s own words. The plan sets no limit to recreational boating and allows motor vessels along the river’s entire length, including through wild and scenic sections.
     The plan includes a preposterous definition of “road” that includes wheel tracks in the dirt, the groups say. It opens 404 miles for off-road vehicle use, which would fragment wildlife habitat, spread invasive species and cause erosion.
Livestock grazing is also reapproved in the plan, though it severely degrades river areas, according to the complaint.
     The bureau approved six airstrips that were never subject to official review, and 43 oil and gas leases on the monument will remain open, the complaint states.
     The environmental groups, represented by James Angell with Earthjustice, ask the court to set aside the 2008 resource management plan and close primitive roads in the monument.

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