When Al Gore joined President Clinton in 1996 in announcing the creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, the vice president called it a "great monument to stewardship."
Yet by presidential
decree the steward in this case was not the National Park Service;
the new monument became the responsibility of the Bureau of Land
Management, an agency focused more on mining and livestock grazing
than parks and preservation.
If the Department of
Interior has its way, the BLM may soon be responsible for more
park-quality lands, since Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt recently
proposed a BLM-managed national monument in northern
Putting the BLM in charge of national
monuments is part of a trend toward blurring the lines among the
roles of the federal land management agencies. Now, as both the
Forest Service and the BLM make outdoor recreation and land
conservation their primary goals, some see the trend as a threat to
the National Park Service.
"I freely confess that
when the Grand Staircase-Escalante announcement was made I had a
visceral reaction: Who in the hell are the BLM to be running a
national monument?" says Ron Everhart, deputy director of
operations for the NPS Intermountain Region, during a recent forum
on the monument's management. "More often, we are finding other
agencies beginning to take a more active role in the missions that
have been the province of the NPS."
call competition could be an attempt by the administration and
Congress to get the agencies to cooperate. Many within Interior saw
the selection of the BLM to run the monument as an attempt by
Babbitt to "green up" the BLM and provide a new direction to an
agency that has had trouble finding its niche in the increasingly
non-extractive New West. But others wonder if the BLM's culture of
livestock and mining will be able to adapt to the new
"It's too bad, when it comes to good
stewardship, we think it's something anyone can do," says Mark
Peterson, Rocky Mountain regional director of the National Parks
and Conservation Association. "Look at interpretation - the Park
Service invented it, they know how to educate the public. Where in
BLM is there expertise in interpretation for this new monument?
They are going to have to invent it from the bottom up. It's like
asking US West to build automobiles."
question is whether BLM has the financial resources to do justice
to the title "national monument."
"How are you
going to put BLM in charge of protecting this monument when Arches,
an 80,000-acre national park, has more rangers than BLM has in the
entire state of Utah?" says Walt Dabney, former superintendent of
Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.
lack of government presence could explain why Forest Service and
BLM lands are enjoying an upswing in
"It's the people of this country who
allowed this monument, to go to BLM. Because in their minds, if the
(Park Service) got it we would close it down," says Rob Arnberger,
superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park. "It seems the public
views parks in two ways, either as destination resorts or as places
where you can't go anywhere without a permit."
Yet many of the same recreation permits required
in national parks are now required on Forest Service or BLM lands.
"Management of people is becoming the norm for all these agencies,"
says Dabney. "It has to be."
Christopher Smith is a
reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune.