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
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.