Montana business challenges rules limiting scattering of remains 8-07

HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Frances Coover’s business, Ladies in White, lays to rest cremated remains in forests, mountains or meadows on public lands.

With more Americans opting for cremation, Coover knew the business, which she started earlier this year, would fill a need.

But after performing the service for her first paying client, at a place she won’t disclose, Coover found herself at odds with the federal government.

The Forest Service has a long-standing policy of rejecting requests to scatter remains on its lands, citing concerns that survivors of the deceased may try to interfere with management of the land. The Bureau of Land Management had no policy against scattering remains, however, so Coover applied for a permit there. Rejected, she has vowed to fight the BLM’s decision.

“They’re our public lands,” she said in a phone interview from her Missoula home. “We all own them.”

The Forest Service will not officially authorize scattering of remains, said Gordon Schofield, a land-use official at the agency’s regional office in Missoula

“Do people do it privately? Yes, of course they do,” he said.

Coover said Schofield’s acknowledgment that scatterings happen without permission does not lead her to consider dispersing remains on the sly. She wants to comply with the rules, she said.

In a written answer to Coover’s appeal, the BLM said this spring that several American Indian tribes had concerns “since cremation is not part of Native American traditional beliefs, and the spreading of human remains on public lands could conflict with Native American use of the public lands for traditional spiritual practices.”

James Steele Jr., chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana, praised the decision.

“We find it reassuring to know that a federal agency has shown the appropriate level of concern for activities that could greatly impact the land from a tribal point of view,” Steele said in a statement.

Tribal spokesman Rob McDonald said individuals scattering remains “is a concern, but what can we do?”

Officials in the National Park Service generally allow people to scatter remains, with permission and in certain areas.

At Grand Canyon National Park, people looking to scatter remains are steered away from sites that tribes consider sacred, said park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge.

The park receives about a dozen requests each year, she said.

George Fatolitis, a teacher from Clearwater, Fla., said he wrote to Alaska’s Denali National Park seeking information on how to one day have his remains scattered there. He said he was pleased by the response, which detailed the permission requirements.

“You can understand why anyone would want to spend the rest of your life in a place like Denali,” Fatolitis said. “Why not spend the rest of your death in a place like that?”

Denali averages a couple of requests a year and typically grants them, said Chief Ranger Peter Armington.

While awaiting a decision on her appeal, Coover said she scatters remains only occasionally and is careful to avoid federal lands.

She also is negotiating with ranchers for use of their property. But Coover said she is committed to resolving the public-lands issue so people can return in death to the places where, she says, “the heart was uplifted.”

On the Net:
Ladies in White:
U.S. Bureau of Land Management:
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes: