Home Energy conservation In Montana, the National Heritage Area movement faces a new bogeyman

In Montana, the National Heritage Area movement faces a new bogeyman


  • President Joe Biden announced earlier this year his intention to conserve 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030 to tackle climate change.
  • The ongoing push for a national heritage area in Big Sky County in Montana is unrelated to the Biden administration’s 30×30 plan, according to the group’s chairman.
  • Since 1985, 55 NHAs have been created in the United States – of which former President Donald Trump added six when he signed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act in 2019.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – One rainy October evening, about 20 people showed up in the Heritage Inn ballroom for a presentation – not a mask in sight.

It was the day after the New York Times ran an article about the disinformation campaign around the Big Sky County National Heritage Area that swept through this northern Montana town in 2020 and experienced a summer resurgence. .

But they weren’t there to talk about it. They were there to learn about what was heralded as the “30×30 Land Grab,” another plot surrounding the federal government and land acquisition that emerged after the President’s administration’s target was announced. Joe Biden to conserve 30% of US land and water by 2030 to fight climate change. Currently, about 12% of US land and 11% of freshwater ecosystems are protected.

The administration’s target was included in an executive decree issued in January with few details. Months later, the National Climate Working Group released a preliminary report titled “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” which laid out the principles for achieving the goal, but not much about how it would follow them.

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This ambiguity presented fertile ground for Margaret Byfield of American Stewards of Liberty, a nonprofit “working to protect private property rights and the freedoms they guarantee,” according to the organization’s website. .

The Colorado Sun reported that the organization received $ 170,000 between 2015 and 2019 from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, which is used to muddy the waters of political donations from right-wing billionaire donors, including the Koch brothers, the DeVos family and d ‘others.

ASL had previously made presentations in several states against Biden’s 30×30 plan, including in Montana, by the time Byfield arrived in Great Falls.

“It’s not about conservation,” Byfield told the Montanais group, saying the program came from socialist countries, that models used in climate science are “informed with bias” and funded with money. of George Soros, a billionaire who often donates to democratic causes. “It’s all about control.”

She also claimed that private land was a “target” in the plan and that it would be “naive” to believe that conservation easements would allow landowners to retain control of the land.

After Biden was elected, Byfield told the group, he began to explore environmental policies. She was interrupted by a loud voice from the crowd: “He was not elected!

“Coordination” against President Joe Biden’s 30×30 goal

The 30×30 plan is supported by 73 countries around the world who have pledged to conserve 30% of their land by 2030. The initiative was launched in 2018 with a $ 1 billion donation from the foundation based in Washington, DC of Hansjörg Wyss, a native Swiss now living in Wyoming, according to his foundation’s website.

By bringing her presentation to Great Falls, Byfield hoped to foster a grassroots movement to push local officials to oppose the 30×30. She noted that other communities and states had already drafted resolutions in opposition, including four counties in the Montana.

While Greg Gianforte of Montana was among 15 Republican governors who signed a letter to Biden questioning his authority to keep 30% of the land, adding that it would undermine property rights and hurt the economy, the mayors of Bozeman, Helena and Missoula – three of Big Sky State’s largest cities – signed a letter of support for the initiative.

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In Nebraska, meanwhile, Governor Pete Ricketts passed his own opposition executive order in June, which, among other goals, sets up formations to help local governments push back against 30×30.

Inside the Heritage Inn ballroom, Byfield encouraged people to attend a $ 50 “coordination class” the next day. On its website, the ASL describes the coordination as “a process of reconciling conflicts between federal and local politics” which gives “local government an equal seat at the negotiating table.”

She pointed to a previous “coordination” meeting with local officials on the US border with Mexico, saying the Texas Emergency Management Department was pressured to cooperate without specifying how that cooperation led to change.

As she finished, Byfield asked for donations to financially support ASL. Her slide presentation included a photo of a postcard that read “Donate $ 30 to Fight Land Grab!” And advertised memberships ranging from $ 35 to $ 1,000.

Executive pay represented 63% of the organization’s tax returns in 2019, with Byfield and her husband Dan earning a total of $ 192,381.

The influence of political “innuendos” in the Big Sky debate

How, or if, the debate over the national heritage area relates to the Biden administration’s 30×30 plan appears to be a matter of political conviction.

Jane Weber, president of the nonprofit that works to bring the NHA designation to Cascade and Chouteau counties in Montana, told USA TODAY Network’s Great Falls Tribune that the 30×30 goal was not not bound.

“There are people who try to tie them together, but they’re not part of the NHA designation,” Weber said.

Great Falls, Montana.

She pointed to a 2004 Government Office of Accountability report which said, in part: “Heritage area officials, Parks Service headquarters and regional staff, as well as representatives of national property rights groups that we contacted were not able to provide us with heritage area examples. directly affecting – positively or negatively – the values ​​or use of private property.

“It is just unfortunate that the political climate right now is using innuendo to try to sway the minds of the people on something that is a good thing to develop the economic development of our communities and to help us with the people who want to do something about the interpretation or preservation of historic buildings and places, and historical stories and our culture, ”Weber said.

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The Congressional Research Service describes NHAs as partnerships between the National Park Service, states, and local communities, in which the NPS supports conservation through federal recognition, seed money and funding. technical assistance. Since 1985, 55 NHAs have been created in the United States – of which former President Donald Trump added six in 2019 when he signed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.

“Unlike lands in the national park system, which are owned and managed by the federal government, lands in heritage areas generally remain in state, local or private ownership or a combination thereof,” reads. on in a CRS report from March 2021.

Byfield sowed doubt in a question-and-answer response after his presentation in Great Falls.

Asked about any relationship between the NHA initiative and the 30×30 plan, Byfield said, “Those harmless little things that ‘it really doesn’t impact your private property’, ‘you can get out of it’, ‘it’s just to help, you know, promote tourism, ”all those kinds of things. These are things you really have to be careful about. “

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She added, “Whenever there is any kind of federal oversight, federal funding tied to it, federal management, the National Park Service, you must be very worried, especially under the Biden administration, because we know what their ultimate program is. ”

Byfield’s post resonated with Rae Grulkowski, a local anti-NHA activist who featured prominently in the Times article.

“Don’t look down on the liberal news for doing this, this, that, the other,” Grulkowski told the group. “Let’s figure it out and spread the good stuff in the community, use the energy, educate yourself and educate your community members, family and friends.”

Nicole Girten is a government watch reporter for the Great Falls Tribune. You can email him at [email protected]