Secretary Babbitt meets a tough crowd

  FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt got an earful when he announced his plans for a new national monument on the Shivwits Plateau, or "Arizona Strip" north of the Grand Canyon. About 500 people packed a meeting March 8 in the Cline Library at Northern Arizona University to debate the proposal.

Calling the plateau "one of the last best places," Babbitt explained that he wants to designate 550,000 acres as a national monument to protect 200 species of birds, a trophy deer herd, desert bighorn sheep and a sensitive bat species. The plateau, currently managed under the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Bureau of Land Management, was considered in the 1970s as an addition to Grand Canyon National Park. The U.S. Senate turned the proposal down because it would have meant banning hunting and ranching in the area.

At the meeting, ranchers expressed similar concerns, though Babbitt said that grazing would continue within the monument. Putting the strip in the limelight would bring throngs of tourists, added Tony Heaton, a third-generation rancher from Fredonia: "Call it a monument and the floodgates will open." Others called the proposal "Clinton Land Grab II," the sequel to the administration's creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah (HCN, 9/30/96).

Geoff Barnard, president of the Grand Canyon Trust, supports the idea, but said Babbitt's proposal is too small. He said the proposed monument should double in size to include almost 1 million acres, to protect wildlife migration routes and stave off mining and off-road vehicles.

Support came from Carmen Bradley, chairwoman of the Kaibab Paiute, who said her tribe wants to be informed every step of the way. "This is Paiute country and we're proud of it," she said.

Babbitt hopes to see the monument designated before the Clinton administration leaves office in 2001. "I would like to get it done on my watch," he said. "This is my home town. This is my state."

* Stan Bindell
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