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House Committee Outreach to Opponents of Clinton Land Preserves

by Cat Lazaroff

Offering to help local interests scuttle national parks
Clinton at Grand Canyon (ENS) WASHINGTON -- Leaders of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Friday launched an informal review of the 19 new national monuments and monument expansions enacted during the Clinton administration. The representatives promised to help House members draw up legislation to overturn the monuments.

The committee's Republican leaders, committee Chair James Hansen of Utah and Parks, Recreation and Public Lands Subcommittee Chair Joel Hefley of Colorado, mailed letters to 16 Republican and Democratic members of Congress. The letters ask the members, each of which represents a region in which at least one monument was created or expanded during Clinton's tenure, for feedback on how their constituents and local governments feel about the protected areas.

Former President Bill Clinton used his executive powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect existing federal lands as national monuments. Because these monuments do not require Congressional approval, they have been criticized as circumventing local and national public feedback.

"The federal government should never unilaterally alter state land designations without consulting local citizens and government officials. To do so is an arrogant abuse of power," said Representative Hefley. "Unlike former President Clinton, Chairman Hansen and I are interested in how these land designations affect local residents and businesses. As chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee, I will review the land designations of the Clinton Administration and work with Members of Congress and local officials to ensure that a fair land designation process is implemented."

Representatives Hansen and Hefley offered their assistance in drawing up monument specific legislation if the members and constituents were unhappy with aspects of the monuments. If, on the other hand, members and their constituents are pleased with their monuments, "then we will not seek to make any such changes and the monuments will remain intact," the letters say.

"This review of Mr. Clinton's monuments will be driven from the bottom up," Hansen said. "If Members and their constituents are happy with their monuments, then we're happy. If there are problems, we're here to help them find a legislative solution to those problems."

Only Reagan, Nixon, and Bush turned down chance to preserve lands
Enacted by Congress in 1906, the Antiquities Act gives the President of the United States the power to National Monument protective status to federal areas possessing significant historical, scenic and/or scientific values. Presidents from both the Democratic and Republican political parties have used the Act to protect millions of acres of public lands.

Since its enactment, 14 U.S. Presidents have used the Act to proclaim more than 100 national monuments. The only three Presidents who did not use the act were Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George Bush.

But no President has faced the level of criticism directed at Clinton for his use of the Act. Clinton set a new record for land preserved by executive order: more than 4.6 million acres in the lower 48 states, more than any other administration has set aside.

Earlier this year, two nonprofit groups formed to support multiple use of public lands filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Antiquities Act. According to the suit, the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "Congress shall have the Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States," should invalidate the Act's powers.

Many western lawmakers also opposed Clinton's executive fiats, which were concentrated in western states.

After Clinton created Arizona's Ironwood Forest National Monument in June 2000, Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, expressed "dismay" at Clinton's action. Though he acknowledged that Clinton and local lawmakers had similar goals in mind, he said the new monument derailed work on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a cooperative agreement aimed at protecting broad swaths of southern Arizona desert.

"I believe a unilateral edict by the President is an inappropriate way to implement a land use decision," Kolbe said. "It is difficult to formulate a land use management plan that everyone can embrace. It may take years, but it is possible."

Kolbe and other House Republicans helped pass the National Monument NEPA Compliance Act (HR 1487) of 2000 by a vote of 408 to two. The legislation, which did not win approval by Congress before the session ended, would have required public participation in any declaration of a national monument under the Antiquities Act.

Overwheming public support, yet state lawmakers often condemned the process
Lack of public participation is the primary criticism leveled at Clinton's new monuments. In December 1998, Clinton ordered Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to compile a report on unique and fragile federal lands in need of protection.

On December 14, 1999, Babbitt presented his first list of recommendations, to be followed by several similar lists over the next year. In creating those lists, Babbitt and a team of federal employees based both nationally and regionally, conducted intensive reviews of available scientific and other information, such as historical texts and environmental documentation.

The teams gathered extensive public comment from public meetings, and in consultation with the affected states, met with members of state congressional delegations, local governments, citizens groups and tribal councils. Each recommendation sent to the President was accompanied by a detailed report on the perceived need for the new monument or expansion, as well as comments both in support of and opposition to the proposal.

Yet state lawmakers often condemned the process as ignoring local concerns and choices about land use.

After Clinton designated two new Arizona monuments in January 2000 -- Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and Agua Fria National Monument -- Arizona Governor Jane Hull and the state's Republican Congress members sent a letter to Clinton, asking him to, "forgo unilateral federal action ... and instead work with us as we involve the people of Arizona in a preservation effort that allows the public a voice in the process."

But in December 1999, a statewide poll by the Behavior Research Center of Phoenix had found that more than 76 percent of respondents supported the proposed monuments -- both Democrats and Republicans.

Some of the Representatives that have been asked to participate in the grassroots review of the Clinton monuments have already come out in support of the designations. Representative Sam Farr, a California Democrat, was asked for his opinions on the expansion of Pinnacles National Monument.

"Enlarging this monument was key to helping it survive," Farr said last year. "The land we've added contains some of the same amazing geological formations that make this place so special. Part of the headwaters for the monument's water basin are also contained in this new land. There's also important habitat for prairie falcons, golden eagles, red tailed hawks, amphibians and reptiles."

Farr was also strongly supportive of the other new California monuments, including California Coastal National Monument and Giant Sequoia National Monument.

In New York, Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, who worked for years to keep Governor's Island from falling into private hands, praised Clinton's eleventh hour designation of Governor's Island National Monument in January. While parts of the island, abandoned by the U.S. Coast Guard decades ago, may still be subject to a mandatory sale to the highest bidder in 2002, several historic areas and buildings now have permanent protection.

"We contacted the White House first, asking for national monument designation," said Brett Heimov, director of Nadler's Washington, DC office. "We saw this as an opportunity to at least save some of the island for the public good."

"We're going to provide plenty of information showing that our local constituents support the move," added Heimov. "We see no reason to review this monument designation."

No wholesale rolling back of Clinton parks
But many more of the 16 recipients of the Hansen/Hefley letter may seek to modify or overturn the monument designations.

Representative Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican, has already introduced a bill to restore hunting in Craters of the Moon National Monument, which was expanded by Clinton in November 2000. Prior to the expansion, Simpson said that he and local lawmakers, who had been consulted by the Interior Department, had been assured that hunting would not be restricted within the new monument.

However, when the final rule was issued, no hunting was allowed in the area of the expansion managed by the National Park Service. Under Simpson's bill, areas that were open to hunting before the expansion will remain open to hunting.

"When the delegation and Governor talked to the Secretary of Interior about the Craters of the Moon expansion we were led to believe that hunting would not be affected," said Simpson. "But when the ink was dry on the designation, the rules of the game changed. My bill is about fairness and fulfilling the promises that the federal government made to the people of Idaho."

Simpson noted that former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt met with many local ranchers to hear their concerns about management of the region, and expressed approval that the final monument addressed issues like local grazing rights.

But Simpson, like many others, wants Congress to "reclaim its constitutional powers" over federal land use.

"Unfortunately, the Antiquities Act is not being used as it was intended," said Simpson. "Top down national monument declarations are major decisions with far reaching effects that should be made in the open, not in secret."

Representative Hansen said the Resources Committee does not aim to overturn all of Clinton's monuments, but does seek to provide for public input after the fact.

"No one is going to see a wholesale rolling back of these monuments," Hansen said. "But we may help Members draft legislation to redraw boundaries or alter management plans. Members of Congress and American citizens most impacted by these monuments didn't have any say when they were created. Mr. Hefley and I want to give them a seat at the table and a voice in the process."

© 2001 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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Albion Monitor February 19, 2001 (

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