President Clinton declares three new monuments

Published March 1, 2000

In what western lawmakers called “a war on the West,” the Clinton-Gore Administration bypassed Congress and unilaterally declared three new national monuments and added acreage to a fourth, restricting public use on over a million acres of public land.

One monument, the Grand Canyon-Parashant, encompasses one million acres adjacent to the north rim of the Grand Canyon extending to the Nevada border. The President had taken a similarly sized plot just before the 1996 election, when he created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

In the present round of monument-declaring, two smaller monuments were also created: Agua Fria National Monument north of Phoenix, a 71,000-acre area of archaeological sites; and the 840 mile-long California Coastal National Monument, which encompasses thousands of small, uninhabited islands off the coast of California. Clinton also expanded by 10,000 acres the existing Pinnacles National Monument near San Jose, California.

The President’s actions were met with concern by western legislators. Rep. Bob Stump (R-Arizona), who represents the district affected by the new million-acre monument, said, “I am disappointed that the President used his executive authority to create in Arizona two national monuments—a total area larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.”

All seven Republicans in the Arizona congressional delegation and Governor Jane Dee Hull had written to President Clinton before his designation. “We believe it is imperative,” they wrote, “that Congress, and the people affected by any proposed monument designations, be directly involved in the final decisions of public land management.”

Bills were introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in 1999 that would have designated the federal lands in the Shivwits Plateau/Parashant Canyon as National Conservation Areas. H.R. 2795, introduced by the Arizona delegation in the House, would have provided protection for the area while preserving existing public uses of the land such as hunting, hiking, and ranching. Stump explained, “the bill protects the area for future generations, while maintaining existing uses at their current level.”

Monument designation restricts hunting, fishing, mining, logging, and recreational vehicle use in the areas. Many communities in the areas affected depend on those activities for their livelihood.

Lawmakers told Environment & Climate News they were surprised and dismayed when Secretary Babbitt recently abandoned his efforts to work with them and instead asked the President to designate the areas as monuments. The acreage set aside in Arizona is nearly double what was originally discussed with the Arizona delegation.

Said Stump, “the inclusion of an additional 450,000 acres of land, which has not even been subject to public discussion, illustrates the Secretary’s contempt for Arizona’s citizens. I am disappointed that the Administration is cynical in its presumption that they know better than the people of Arizona how to preserve our lifestyle. I believe that the very things that make these areas unique–their accessibility, remoteness, diverse recreation opportunities, and ranching lifestyles—have been jeopardized by the President’s proclamation.”

In the letter they sent before President Clinton’s announcement, the Arizona lawmakers explain “there is not an immediate threat to these areas that would force the Administration to act precipitously on these designations, particularly when Congress is in recess.” Stump added, “less than one-half of one percent of the land designated in these national monuments is private land—even capable of being developed—clearly demonstrating that development not a real threat.”

More designations on wish list

According to the Washington Times, Secretary Babbitt may ask President Clinton to name another six sites in California, Montana, Colorado, and Oregon. Those would include the Missouri Breaks along the Missouri River in Montana; Steens Mountain and Soda Mountain in Oregon; Santa Rosa Mountains and Carrizo Plain in California; and 160,000 acres in Montezuma County, Colorado.

Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah), chairman of the House Parks Subcommittee, was dismayed by the report. “Once again the President hurts southern Utah for his own political gain,” Hansen said. “This kind of abuse of the Antiquities Act has got to end.” Hansen has introduced legislation, H.R.1487, which would guarantee public notification of potential monument designations. The bill, approved by the House by a 408-2 vote on September 24, is pending in the Senate.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana), urged Secretary Babbitt not to abandon the public process in Montana. “The attitude that allows federal officials to walk all over the opinions and wishes of local residents must stop.”