With public attention worldwide focused on the still-undetermined
outcome of the Nov. 7 election, President Clinton is continuing his
policy of creating national monuments by decree, recently placing nearly
1 million acres of federal land in Arizona and Idaho off-limits to
mining and general public access.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument will continue under the auspices of the BLM. The Park Service will manage the lava flows in the expanded area of Craters of the Moon, with the BLM in charge of the rest of the monument. Both are agencies of the
Department of Interior.
“With these proclamations, this administration continues its commitment to preserving and restoring America’s natural treasures, from the Florida Everglades to the California redwoods, for this and future generations,” the president said in a short press release.
By designating the two monuments, Clinton topped President Teddy Roosevelt’s record for monument making.
Starting with the establishment of the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in September 1996, the president has created a dozen monuments (including two expansions of existing ones), having a combined acreage of 4.5 million acres. This doesn’t include over 6 million acres of federally claimed rocks, islands and ocean stretching 840 miles along the California coast, an area designated a monument in January.
Environmental groups cheered the proclamations.
A cinder cone at Craters of the Moon National Monument.
“We applaud President Clinton’s actions to protect special places in the West,” said Roger Singer of the Sierra Club of Idaho. “The creation of Vermillion Cliffs and Craters of the Moon bring us one step closer to ensuring the future of these unique and fragile ecosystems. … We hope that similar measures are taken for even more unspoiled and pristine areas that are in need of protection.”
Not everyone agrees. The president’s policy of unilaterally bestowing monument status on hundreds of thousands of acres of public land has been condemned as a gross abuse of executive power. The designations have been bitterly opposed by the majority of people who live in the targeted areas, their local officials and representatives in Congress. Lawsuits challenging the president’s authority are working their way through the courts. As reported by
WorldNetDaily, the most recent of these was filed last month by a coalition of residents, recreationists and local governments seeking to overturn Clinton’s April 15 designation of the 327,760-acre Great Sequoia National Monument in California.
Although Thursday’s designations were expected to be made at some point, last week’s move caught many off guard and wondering why it was done at this time with no prior notice. The president has traditionally used proclamation signings as opportunities for photo shoots and public relations, even if the only people to be notified in advance are supporters of the Clinton-Gore
Lands Legacy agenda. These designations were made almost surreptitiously just before the Veterans Day holiday, and were not mentioned at either of the two White House press briefings held Thursday.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, an outspoken opponent of the designation, was among those caught by surprise. In May, the senator had castigated the proposal as a “complete affront to our representative form of government.”
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho
“We were expecting it, but didn’t know when,” said Craig’s press secretary Will Hart. “I hadn’t heard anything about it until I started getting calls. That’s how I found out.”
Hart said one of the senator’s objections was the process itself. There were too few public hearings and no real attempt to address various concerns by the different interests, Hart said. The comment period could have been extended, but Babbitt refused.
“Little to no public input and zero communication with the Idaho delegation makes me wonder how Secretary Babbitt defines ‘consensus,’” Craig has remarked.
“It’s not something we want to live with, but we’re going to have to,” said Hart. “The senator has thought all along that the original designation of the monument — the 53,440 acres, the rest managed by the BLM — was adequate. Now that we have to live under the designation, we hope that access for the ranchers and others in the area will not be obstructed. But who knows. Loopholes in agreements can always be found.”
Adena Cook, public lands director for the non-profit
Coalition, in Pocatello, Idaho, recalled that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt made several trips to the Craters of the Moon area last spring. Several informal meetings took place, and at the insistence of Craig, at least one public hearing was held. In mid-August, Babbitt announced that he was recommending the expansion of Craters of the Moon and the creation of Vermilion Cliffs to the president.
“Both of these recommendations cover unique, spectacular landscapes,” said Babbitt at that time. “So far, they have been untouched by development or sprawl, but the West is expanding rapidly, and this is the time to act. If we protect these wonderful open spaces now, future generations will be able to marvel at them just as we do.”
“Several months went by and nothing happened,” said Cook. “Then two days after the election, pop — out of the box it comes.”
An umbrella organization of recreation groups, the BlueRibbon Coalition advocates the public’s right to responsible, off-road use of public lands. Cook is concerned that under the new rules, only hikers — and only very hardy ones at that — will have access to the monument and be able to enjoy its stark beauty. She said the secretary, during his visits, met with coalition director Clark Collins and indicated to him that off-road use might continue, as might other uses.
“You shouldn’t worry. We’ll take care of you folks. You’ll still be able to graze; you’ll still be able to go where you want to go,” Cook paraphrased Babbitt as saying.
Cook said that the coalition and several other groups asked that specific language be inserted in the proclamation assuring the public’s right to continued access. Despite verbal assurances and public hearings, this wasn’t done. Except for the descriptions of local scenery, the proclamation reads much like the others: Mining is prohibited; all motorized and mechanized off-road use is prohibited; and a transportation plan is to be developed that will include road closings, thereby restricting on-road travel as well.
“We sure didn’t get any consideration,” said Cook. “It looks like cattle grazers got a little bit of assurance and water rights are addressed, but off-road travel is gone.”
Babbitt snubs congressman Sen. Craig and Adena Cook weren’t alone in learning of the designations after the fact. Neither Clinton nor Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona, bothered to inform long-time congressman
Bob Stump, R-Ariz., whose district encompasses the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument near the Arizona-Utah line. Stump has represented Arizona’s third congressional district since 1976.
Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz.
“Secretary Babbitt did personally call Congressman Stump to let him know that he was going to send a recommendation to the White House, but that was a good two months ago,” said Lisa Atkins, the congressman’s chief of staff. “He (Stump) told the secretary then that because of the wilderness designation and management plan already in place for the area, a monument designation was unnecessary. That’s the same conversation the congressman and the secretary had over the other million acres that were designated earlier this year in the Arizona Strip as a national monument.”
This was a reference to the president’s creation in January of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. The 71,000-acre Agua Fria National Monument, also in Stump’s district, was established at that time.
Atkins said neither she nor the congressman knew of the Vermilion Cliffs designation until Friday morning, when she opened the Arizona Republic, a daily newspaper published in Phoenix, and saw a brief article on the front page. She immediately phoned the news to Stump’s D.C. office.
“It would have been nice for the White House or the Department of Interior to let us know the president would be signing those,” said Atkins sarcastically, noting there is a “philosophical difference” between Clinton and Stump.
It wasn’t as though Babbitt’s office had no contact with Stump’s staff. Atkins said she had received a call Thursday from Interior requesting information on a related matter. The caller made no mention of the designation made just hours before.
Uranium connection Like Clinton’s other proclamations, the designations contain glowing descriptions of the history, wildlife and overall scenic beauty of the areas. The Vermilion Cliffs region has been inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans, and the ruins of ancient villages are scattered about the area. Desert big horn sheep, pronghorn antelope and mountain lions roam through the grasslands; 20 species of raptors soar overhead.
A portion of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
As with the other designation, there is no description of the wealth that lies beneath the surface of the earth, only a brief statement outlawing mining and mineral extraction.
Having worked for Stump over 15 years, Atkins was able to throw considerable light on that issue. According to Atkins, there is much more at Vermilion Cliffs than scenery and wildlife. Indeed, the entire Arizona Strip — the area between the Colorado River and the Arizona-Utah line — contains “significant” deposits of uranium.
During the 1980s, the development of uranium mining was considered a good thing, and one company in particular was interested. Stump, a multiple-use advocate, had never voted for a wilderness bill. There was outside pressure building for a wilderness designation, so Stump sat down with the uranium company president, got all of the environmental groups around a table and for a year and a half worked to hammer out a wilderness bill.
“The key was a gentlemen’s agreement among all the parties that there were areas that could be mined for uranium and areas that needed to be set aside,” said Atkins. “A very productive group of people, including mining interests, grazing interests, timber interests, local governments, tribal representatives and the major environmental groups, sat down at a table and worked diligently in good faith for about a year and a half to come up with what was introduced as the Arizona Strip Wilderness Bill.”
1964 Wilderness Act requires areas to be 5,000 acres or larger for wilderness status, and these can be brought into the wilderness system only through legislation. The BLM inventoried the Arizona Strip and identified qualified areas.
Atkins said that by working diligently, the many separate interests came to an agreement on what areas within the strip should be designated wilderness and what could be released to multiple use, including mining.
A bill was drafted, which was incorporated into a larger Arizona Desert Wilderness Bill. Once enacted, those areas were brought into the wilderness system in the mid-’80s.
“There’s no rush for development. Grazing has continued, and there has been no uranium mining in recent years,” said Atkins. The area where some uranium mining had occurred was completely restored by the company when it closed down the operation.
“You can’t tell there was ever any mining there at all,” she said.
Everything fell apart two years ago when Babbitt told Stump he planned to recommend sections of the Arizona Strip for national monument status, but suggested a less restrictive version could be developed. Taking Babbitt at his word, Stump and the local stake holders worked eight or nine months to forge a legislative alternative for management that would allow for multiple-use and flexibility, rather than monument designation by the executive department.
According to Atkins, the secretary “wasn’t happy” with the legislation, and in January, the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument was proclaimed. Included within its boundaries were 12 or 13 wilderness study areas that were intended to be released back to multiple use, including mining. Stump and Atkins were not fooled.
“We realized right away when we looked at the map that it wasn’t residential or commercial use he was trying to exclude, but the potential for any mining, though that’s primarily a uranium mining area,” Atkins said.
The possibility that the monument designations in the Arizona Strip have a purpose other than preservation of wildlife habitat and rock formations has precedence in Clinton’s first designation — the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When all the talk about landscapes and wildlife was cleared away, it turned out that the real treasures being locked up were the minerals, in particular the low-sulfur, low-polluting coal — billions of tons of it hidden beneath the surface.
This effectively removed from the world market the only immediate competition to a similar low-sulfur “enviro coal” found in Indonesia. The existence of a major deposit of uranium suggests a similar rationale beyond scenic splendors.
Still not satisfied, Babbitt in August told Stump he was going to recommend yet another area for monument designation, this one on the east end of the strip covering the Paria Canyon Wilderness and the Vermilion Cliffs.
Once again, Stump told Babbitt, “Mr. Secretary, we’ve already protected all of this. It doesn’t need another layer of protection.” Babbitt went ahead anyway.
“So we’re not happy,” said Atkins bluntly. “This is now the third national monument in our district, and there’s another one in southern Arizona (Ironwood Forest National Monument). And he’s looking at yet another one around Lake Pleasant, but has worked out an agreement with the governor to do a land exchange.”
“We would prefer the secretary to engage in honest discourse, rather than abusing the 1906 Antiquities Act,” she said.
In the works Babbitt has announced he plans no further recommendations to the president, but numerous environmental groups have suggestions of their own. In addition to the dozen already designated, another 20 have been submitted for consideration.
Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands (Southwest corner of Idaho) 2,700,000 acres