Bureau of livestock, mining ... and parks?

 

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

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 Arizona.

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."

What some 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 role.

"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."

Another 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.

That very lack of government presence could explain why Forest Service and BLM lands are enjoying an upswing in visitation.

"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.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Type: Permanent, fulltime Reports to: Executive Director Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state and out-of-state required Compensation (beginning): $44,000 to 46,500/yr., DOE plus excellent benefits...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.