Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 5:03 pm | Updated: 5:04 pm, Tue Sep 27, 2011.
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a dangerous bill that should have all of us in Montana - and especially those of us in the northern tier - on high alert. It's called the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505 if you want to look it up yourself), and it gives the federal government sweeping new power to shut down our public lands.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg, and it is exactly the kind of Big Government Montanans don't tolerate. All of us should be up in arms over the prospect of this bill. It infringes on our constitutional rights in the name of freedom - much like the controversial REAL ID Act. In fact, this bill builds off of REAL ID.
What exactly does the bill do?
• It gives the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to seize immediate control of all public land, undermining all rights we have on those lands.
DHS could shut down any recreational activities, grazing, hunting, fishing, logging projects - you name it. The department would be allowed to do whatever it wants to gain what it determines to be "operational control" of any of our international borders.
That means bureaucrats could build roads, fences and even buildings wherever and whenever they want - without public input or due process - and even if it impacts your private land.
• It waives 36 public land and environmental laws - including the Farmland Protection Policy Act - on all federal, state and private lands "within 100 miles of the international land and maritime borders of the United States."
If you look at a map of Montana, that's the entire top third of our state. It's the entire Hi-Line, most of the Missouri River and the Flathead Valley, all of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, several national forests and five of the seven Indian nations in Montana.
• It would give unprecedented power to the secretary of Homeland Security. Under the bill, the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, who oversee Forest Service and BLM lands, "shall not impede, prohibit, or restrict activities of the Secretary of Homeland Security."
And this Rehberg-sponsored bill exempts these activities from court review. Now that's what you call a federal land grab. No wonder the lawmakers behind this bill are quietly trying to push it through Congress.
If they get their way, the federal government would have incredible power to stop timber sales on Forest Service land. DHS could prevent us from snowmobiling or fishing or hunting in our forests. The department could prevent grazing on the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Bureaucrats could kick all the cattle off of BLM land. It would be able to shut down Glacier National Park indefinitely.
The Department of Homeland Security would also have the right to ignore all tribal protections for sacred sites. Why? The laws protecting these sites could be ignored.
I'm not the only one concerned about the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act. Constitutional scholar John Leshy says the act "is the most breathtakingly extreme legislative proposal" he has ever seen because "it would effectively arm 200,000 Department of Homeland Security employees and their contractors with unilateral power to do what they want, without any advance notice, check or process, over vast areas of federal land."
Scary stuff. What can you do? Contact Rep. Rehberg. Tell him we can't afford H.R. 1505. As a county commissioner on the Hi-Line, I know full well we must improve security on Montana's northern border. But we must do it without trampling our rights or taking away our freedoms. That's just not the Montana way.
Vic Miller of Harlem is a Blaine County commissioner.