Babbitt looks for support on his home turf

  • Babbitt's proposed Arizona Strip National Monument

    Map by Diane Sylvain
  • Matt Safford and Whit Bunting on Shivwits Plateau

    rent Israelsen/Salt Lake Tribune
 

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

The Shivwits Plateau wasn't on environmentalists' radar screen a year ago. Better known as the Arizona Strip, the Shivwits lies in the extreme northwestern corner of Arizona. Cut off from the rest of the state by the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, it is a region of sagebrush flats, pinon-juniper forests and deep canyons that only mule deer hunters and a handful of ranchers seemed to care about.

That changed last November, when Department of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt - a northern Arizona native - proposed greater federal protection for a 550,000-acre swath of federal lands bordering Grand Canyon National Park (HCN, 12/21/98). As he did at Steens Mountain, Babbitt vowed from the beginning that local people and their elected officials would have a say in the matter, but made it clear that he would be willing to push for national monument status if no consensus emerged.

Since then, he's attended two town hall meetings, in Flagstaff and Colorado City, Ariz., and has sought the support of area ranchers and government officials. Although he's emphasized that grazing and hunting will continue, local response to the plan remains largely negative.

"If Babbitt wanted to keep it pristine, then the best thing would be just to leave it alone," says Mohave County Supervisor Jim Zaborsky.

In August, two members of Arizona's congressional delegation responded to Babbitt's proposal with bills designed to head off a monument designation. Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Bob Stump, both Republicans, introduced separate bills that would create a Shivwits Plateau National Conservation Area. Stump's bill could bring paved roads into the area and requires a comprehensive mineral survey within two years. The proposal has the support of the Arizona Strip Regional Planning Task Force, a group of local officials from three counties in Utah and two in Arizona, the Kaibab Indian Reservation, and a variety of other interest groups. Mohave County Supervisor Carol Anderson, who chairs the task force, says Stump's proposal goes a long way toward soothing the worries of locals.

"We're all real concerned about the monument designation because of the effect it could have on the historical and cultural uses of the area," says Anderson. "The area is not at all prepared to handle an influx (of tourists)." She points out that the only access to the plateau is via 60 miles of dirt roads.

But in a congressional hearing in October, Babbitt slammed Stump's bill. "Several features of this legislation actually weaken protections in existing law," Babbitt said in his testimony.

Tom Robinson of the Grand Canyon Trust, a Flagstaff-based conservation group that is proposing a monument twice the size of Babbitt's proposal, calls the bill "not even fixable."

Sen. Kyl's bill is more compatible with Babbitt's vision, but it has attracted little attention and made almost no progress.

Locals remain suspicious of Babbitt's motives, and resent the attention their empty corner of the Southwest is suddenly receiving. Roger Taylor, the BLM field manager for the Arizona Strip, says that many in the area are "wondering why this is necessary." Taylor acknowledges that public interest and visitation to the Arizona Strip have increased slightly, but believes it's just a result of the rapid growth of nearby Las Vegas and St. George, Utah.

Robinson admits locals don't like all the talk of creating a new monument in their backyard. "I think they want this whole thing to go away," he says. "It's a tough call. It really is. I think there will be some short-term sacrifices - but in the long term there will be protection."

Tim Westby is a former HCN intern. He writes from Salt Lake City, Utah.

High Country News Classifieds
  • UTAH BEEF
    Grass-fed, grass-finished beef. Available in October. Reserve your beef now. Kate's Land & Cattle Boulder, Utah. [email protected], grassfedbeefbykatie.com
  • SECLUDED COLORADO HIDEAWAY
    This passive solar home sits on 2 lots and offers an abundance of privacy and views while being only 15 minutes to downtown Buena Vista....
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Introduction: Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with offices located in Kanab and Escalante, Utah. We are committed to the conservation...
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • 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...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • 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.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...