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
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."
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.