Interior secretaries have what it takes

  Dear HCN,

Some Westerners seem to believe that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is the only one who ever moved, under presidential direction, to encourage the preservation of land and water under national monument designation.

America has had 48 secretaries of the Interior. Since the passage by Congress in 1906 of the act that allows presidents to set aside and protect national monuments, we have had 24 Secretaries.

Almost without exception, they encouraged the presidents they served to protect land and water under that act - the Antiquities Act of 1906. Every president since Theodore Roosevelt (excepting only Nixon, Reagan and Bush) has used the act to preserve critical national areas by declaring them national monuments.

Teddy Roosevelt protected more than a dozen areas. So did Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. President Franklin Roosevelt protected more than two dozen, setting aside nearly 2 million acres. President Carter gave lasting protection to the most public land - 56 million acres in 17 national monuments in Alaska in 1978.

In the tradition of those nearly one hundred years, Babbitt is engaged in a public conversation with us Westerners. It is a patient dialogue that is far greater than any of his predecessors ever conducted and he is doing it in an effort to give full public voice and participation to the matter of further protecting "objects of historic and scientific interest" as the Antiquities Act requires.

Some of the voices, particularly those of our more moderate and thoughtful cattle folks, should be listened to. Too many others, however are shrill and rude. We recognize that crowd - deep voices and shallow logic - big hats and no cattle. These are people who demand to continue using the public's land for their own greedy personal benefit. Those are the same voices which have resisted national monument protections for the last 94 years. They resisted other secretaries of the Interior and other presidents - both Democrats and Republicans - when this identical designation was used to save priceless treasures: the Grand Canyon, Devils Tower, Glacier Bay in Alaska, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley and California's beloved Muir Woods! Montana's wild Missouri is in that class! So are other proposed areas, such as the Anasazi Indian ruins in Colorado and the Shivwits Plateau in Utah.

No, Bruce Babbitt isn't the first, and hopefully, he won't be the last Interior secretary with the wisdom to propose what is right, the courage to make it happen, and the guts to give a damn!

Pat Williams
Missoula, Montana

The writer is a former congressman from Montana, and a contributor to HCN's Writers on the Range.

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