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California and the West

Clinton Creates 3 National Monuments

Conservation: Grand Canyon's north rim, prehistoric ruins near Phoenix and small islands along California coastline get protected status. Critics call action a land grab.

January 12, 2000|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. — With the stroke of a pen, President Clinton on Tuesday created three national monuments in the West, most notably more than 1 million acres on the Grand Canyon's north rim filled with rugged cliffs and ponderosa pines.

The action effectively doubles the amount of federally protected land here.

Clinton also designated for protection as a national monument the thousands of small, federally owned islands, rocks and exposed reefs along California's 840-mile coastline.

The third new monument is a 71,100-acre site called Agua Fria, about 40 miles north of Phoenix, which holds some of the most extensive prehistoric ruins in the American Southwest, including petroglyphs, terraced agricultural areas and rock pueblos.

In addition, Clinton used his executive authority to expand by nearly half the size of the 16,265-acre Pinnacles National Monument south of San Jose to protect watershed and wildlife habitat from commercial exploitation.

The president issued his proclamations at the Grand Canyon, using as a backdrop the spectacular Tuweep Valley, with its Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rock layers. The new Grand Canyon monument is larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The White House said Tuesday that Clinton now has designated more land as national monuments in the continental United States than any other president. But some critics were not impressed.

Clinton's designation of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument provoked strong controversy in Arizona, where Republican Gov. Jane Hull and much of the state's congressional delegation denounced the move as a federal land grab that ignored local concerns.

They argued in a recent letter to the president that such designations should be made only through congressional action.

"The people of our state have a long and distinguished record of working to preserve and protect some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the United States," they wrote. "We are writing to ask you to refrain from this unilateral action and instead work with us to develop a solution reflecting the wishes of the people of Arizona."

The new monument also was opposed by hunters, off-road vehicle users and various other commercial interests. In addition, some residents predicted that the region's environment will deteriorate from the added tourism drawn to the monument.

But in a speech at the wind-swept Hopi Point on the precipice of the Grand Canyon's south rim, Clinton argued that the designations were made only after "careful analysis and close consultation with local citizens, state and local officials [and] members of Congress."

The president added: "This is not about locking lands up. It is about freeing them up--from the pressures of development and the threat of sprawl--for all Americans, for all time."

The new Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument includes the Colorado Plateau north of Grand Canyon National Park, extending west to the Nevada state line and encompassing part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The area is home to more than 200 plant species, 116 bird species and 50 mammal species, according to wildlife experts.

Environmental organizations hailed Clinton's action.

"This magnificent natural area of the Grand Canyon's north rim is another superb example of the conservation legacy of 104 national monuments established by 17 presidents since Teddy Roosevelt," said Geoff Barnard, president of the Grand Canyon Trust, a coalition of conservation groups.

Clinton acted under the auspices of the Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, a 1906 law that authorizes presidents to set aside lands as national monuments, a status with somewhat more protection than many other federal lands but less than a national park.

Virtually every national park was created under the Antiquities Act. And every president since its passage has used the law except for three: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Most national parks began as national monuments--including the Grand Canyon itself, which, Clinton noted, President Theodore Roosevelt designated a national monument 92 years ago Tuesday.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt hailed Clinton's action as "a full, final chapter to the protection of this canyon."

Previously, Clinton had named one new national monument. In 1996, he set aside 2 million acres in southern Utah for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. That act incited a firestorm as recreational users and developers--faced with new restrictions--denounced the move as a federal land grab.

The White House said that the thousands of islands, rocks and reefs off California's coast provide critical feeding and nesting grounds for seabirds, including the brown pelican, and for marine mammals, such as the threatened Steller sea lion.

The new California Coastal National Monument will extend 12 miles out to sea. Because of the scattered, small bits of land involved, acreage cannot be readily calculated, officials said.

Babbitt has said that such offshore islands and rocks need protection against mining by entrepreneurs who have been known to collect such rocks for conversion into kitty litter.

About 65 miles south of San Jose, the Pinnacles National Monument, with its spire-like rock formations that rise 500 to 1,200 feet high, was created in 1908 by Roosevelt. It began with 2,060 acres, and has been expanded six times since then.

The latest expansion--by 7,900 acres--will help preserve the monument's unusual rock formations, its watershed and habitat for species such as golden eagles, prairie falcons and red-tailed hawks.

The Agua Fria National Monument encompasses two mesas that hold at least 450 prehistoric sites, many featuring rock art symbols that record prehistoric activities. The area, rapidly being encroached upon by the expanding Phoenix metropolitan area, has suffered from extensive vandalism is recent years, officials said.

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