The secretary's must-do list for Western lands

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's Western road tour didn't finish at Steens Mountain; in fact, no one seems quite sure where it will end. In addition to the Arizona Strip and the Missouri River Breaks, several other Bureau of Land Management sites could gain greater protection before Babbitt leaves office. Here's a partial list.

McElmo Dome, Colorado

This 160,000-acre rock formation in the southwestern corner of the state is a treasure trove of Ancient Puebloan ruins and artifacts. Babbitt first visited there last May, when he set the local Resource Advisory Council to work on a proposal for a national conservation area. In an August report, the council described strong local opposition to the idea. Although Babbitt acknowledged these concerns in a Nov. 9 letter, he also said that unless there was "prompt legislative action" by Congress, he would ask President Clinton to establish a national monument.

Soda Mountain, Oregon

After Babbitt returned to Steens Mountain in late October, he made a side trip to the Soda Mountain area in southeastern Oregon. The Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou mountains overlap in this region, and the 38,000 acres of federal lands there are considered a hotbed of geological and biological diversity. Despite rumors of a national monument or national biological area designation, Babbitt remained tight-lipped about his plans for the area.

Perry Mesa, Arizona

There are seven major prehistoric settlements and at least 450 archaeological sites on this mesa, just 40 miles from the outskirts of Phoenix. Babbitt is urging Congress to establish a 113,000-acre national conservation area there, and comments at recent public hearings have been generally supportive of increased protection for the mesa.

Carrizo Plain, California

The 200,000-acre Carrizo Plain Natural Area is one of the few remaining slices of the grassland habitat that once covered central California's San Joaquin Valley. A local congresswoman has long backed a proposal to establish a national conservation area on the plain, but her bill hasn't made much progress. Babbitt, who's hoping to jump-start the idea, visited the plain in late March and returned to the area in early November.

Santa Rosa Mountains, California

Babbitt visited these mountains south of Palm Springs in August and October. He's supporting a locally developed proposal for a 280,000-acre national monument made up of Forest Service, BLM, tribal and state lands. About 64,000 acres within the area are already protected as wilderness. Rep. Mary Bono, R, may sponsor a congressional bill to establish the monument.

Black Rock Desert, Nevada

This wide-open playa might be best known as the site of the annual no-holds-barred Burning Man festival (HCN, 5/11/98). Although Babbitt planned to visit last summer, he never made it. Nevada Democratic Sens. Harry Reid and Richard Bryan have since picked up the ball. They'd like to see more than 1 million acres of the northwestern Nevada desert designated a national conservation area.