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Babbitt’s monument tour blazes on

Al Gore announces four new national monuments, while Republicans fight back


"Hear ye, one and all!" cried an e-mail to wise-use activists June 9. "Through his chief vassal and anointed heir, the King has spoken!"

The news? Vice President Al Gore, on a campaign visit to Washington state, announced that President Clinton had created four new national monuments: the free-flowing Hanford Reach on the Columbia River, Arizona's Ironwood Forest, Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou, and a treasure trove of Anasazi ruins in Colorado called Canyons of the Ancients.

E-mailer Rich Sobeski was steamed. "Rural subjects are advised that their presence upon the King's domain is no longer tolerated," he wrote in his alert to Off-Road Magazine's list serve. "Subjects must sell their homes, their businesses, their farms and ranches to the King's agents at a price to be set by His Majesty's government."

Greens, in contrast, were crying for an encore. "These are places that have needed protection for a long time, but we haven't seen the leadership in Congress to give them that protection," said Pam Eaton with the Wilderness Society in Denver. "But the job is not done." Many of these areas deserve protection as wilderness, which only Congress can grant them, she said. "We hope that monument designation will protect these areas until Congress acts."

At Babbitt's behest, President Clinton has already created more acres of national monuments in the Lower 48 than any president before him (HCN, 11/22/99: Go tell it on the mountain). At press time, he had designated 3.7 million acres, and it looks like there's more to come.

Moving the ball

Some of the new monuments are the result of local collaboration. In southeastern Oregon, for example, Babbitt won the backing of the local community. He met several times with stakeholders near Soda Mountain, an area rich with geologic and ecological diversity where the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou mountains meet. After the meetings, two local newspapers, as well as the statewide Oregonian, enthusiastically endorsed the proposal for Soda Mountain, to be called the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

"It's a remarkable step in the right direction," says Dave Willis of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council.

In southwestern Colorado, Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell was working with locals on a bill that would protect the 160,000-acre Canyons of the Ancients, also called McElmo Dome. But the proposal proved too hot to handle. Confronted with a vocal property-rights contingent, Campbell backed out.

"Some people said it went too far, others not far enough," says Campbell spokesman Chris Changery. "Whoever thought it was a good plan didn't speak up. We weren't going to force it down anyone's throat, the way the Clinton administration does with their public-lands decisions."

Campbell was not the only Western Republican to react with anger to the latest set of monuments. Washington Sen. Slade Gorton, who leaked word to the press about the new monuments the day before Gore's announcement, called the monument on the Hanford Reach hasty and unjustified.

"There is no threat to the reach," he told the Associated Press. "The only "emergency" is the fact that President Clinton will soon be out of office."

A Republican backlash

While the clock is ticking on Clinton's presidency, Republicans are trying to pull the plug on his monument tour.

In early June, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the National Monument Public Participation Act, written by Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig. The bill would prohibit the president from declaring any new national monuments without approval from Congress, an environmental impact statement (completed by the Department of Interior) and a public comment period.

"The president has thumbed his nose at Congress and abused the Antiquities Act," says Allen Freemyer, staff director of the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands. "He makes his big announcements, then leaves the ashes behind and expects Congress to pay for it. The only way to stop him is to tie up the money."

Which is what Utah Republican Rep. Jim Hansen hopes to do. Hansen has proposed language in the 2001 Interior appropriations bill that would prevent Babbitt from spending any money for planning or management of any national monuments designated after 1999.

Keeping its funding would be the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Hansen's home state, designated by Clinton in 1996. "The plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante is already in place," says Freemyer. "A lot of money has already been spent and there's too much water gone under the bridge to revisit that."

The BLM used about $6.5 million to get Grand Staircase-Escalante up and running, says monument manager Kate Cannon. Those funds paid a dream team of planning experts from federal and state agencies, and put more rangers out on the ground.

"When a monument is set aside, it implies there will be some change, or more concentrated management," she says. "Without additional funding, it's unlikely there will be any significant difference."

New monuments open up "exciting possibilities for us," says Cannon. "We want to show what we can do."

Mark Matthews writes from Missoula, Montana. Greg Hanscom is an HCN associate editor.


  • The office of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Department of the Interior, 1849 C St. NW, Washington DC, 20240 (202/208-6416);
  • Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, U.S. Senate, Washington DC, 20510-1203, (202/224-2752), [email protected];
  • Utah Rep. Jim Hansen, U.S. House of Representatives, 242 Cannon, Washington DC, 20515 (202/225-0453).

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Mark Matthews

Thumbnail image courtesy Bureau of Land Management/CC Flickr