Zinke Takes Montana Monument Off Chopping Block

A pair of pelicans sits on a rock on the Missouri River in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument near Judith Landing July 29. Photo: David Reese

(CN) – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Wednesday he’ll recommend to President Donald Trump that no modifications be made to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, which encompasses over 377,000 acres in central Montana.

Trump issued an executive order in March tasking Zinke with reviewing all national monuments over 100,000 acres for possible reduction or elimination. Trump’s review addresses about 11.2 million acres of national monument land, mostly in the West, as well as 217 million acres of ocean on both sides of the continent. Only the Bear’s Ear National Monument in Utah has been recommended for reduction under the review so far.

The national monument review was among Trump’s first major directives in office. National monuments are created by presidential order under the Antiquities Act, and President Bill Clinton designated the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument just before he left office in January 2001.

The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is rich in oil and gas potential, according to a Department of Energy report, so many conservationists feared energy development motivated the review. The monument includes 149 miles of the upper Missouri River that is federally designated Wild and Scenic, and the central Montana monument supports tourism, agriculture and energy development.

Canoeists float the Missouri River through the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument near Virgelle, Montana, July 28. Photo: David Reese

The Lewis and Clark expedition, seeking to find a northwest passage from St. Louis to the northwest Pacific Coast, traveled up this section of the Missouri River in 1804.

“The monument is one of the only free-flowing areas of the Missouri that remains as Lewis and Clark saw it more than 200 years ago,” Zinke said in a statement Wednesday.

Nicolle Fugere owns Missouri River Outfitters in Fort Benton, Montana. When Trump announced he was reviewing the status of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, she created “Stand Our Ground,” a conservation effort meant to solidify support for the Breaks monument.

She received news of Zinke’s recommendation on Wednesday. “It’s a huge victory for Montana and us,” she said. “Thanks to Ryan Zinke for sticking to his word.”

Fugere said her work with Stand Our Ground revealed how much people want to protect the Missouri River in Montana.

“We got a lot of positive support,” she said Wednesday. “Montanans really stick together when it comes to conservation. It was sort of a surprise to me how many people came out in support of the monument and preserving the monument for future generations.”

A golden eagle stands watch over the Missouri River in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument July 29. Photo: David Reese
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