Lawmaker accepts Babbitt's challenge

  COLORADO


Western Colorado's Black Ridge Canyon has the largest array of sandstone arches outside of Utah, second only to Arches National Park. What it lacks is over-arching protection.


That may soon change. Republican Rep. Scott McInnis, from nearby Grand Junction, is proposing to make the 130,000-acre Black Ridge Canyon a national conservation area, with 72,000 acres designated as wilderness. His bill answers Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who toured the canyon country of Colorado last fall, threatening administrative fiat if Congress does nothing before he leaves office in 2001. Returning in February, he gently reminded locals: "The clock is running."


"Have no doubt, the impetus for this is Bill Clinton and his wish to leave a legacy," says McInnis spokesman Josh Penry. He calls a national monument "the worst of all scenarios."


Local officials endorse the plan, but angrily resist attempts to include a portion of the Colorado River, perceiving an attempt to undermine Colorado water law. But environmental groups prefer legislatively engineered conservation areas because they can include wilderness areas, something impossible by presidential fiat. Wilderness activist Mark Pearson calls Black Ridge the "crown jewel of the BLM's wilderness candidates in Colorado."


"We don't support wilderness as the perfect solution in every situation," says McInnis aide Penry. "In many instances, I think more extreme elements of the environmental movement see wilderness as the cure-all land-management tool, and it's just not."


McInnis' plan would protect ranching interests in the canyons and keep open existing roads.


Copyright © 2000 HCN and Allen Best