Friday, July 22, 2016

GCNM 4 Better called the Grand Confusion — 1998-2000

The Fourth Grand Canyon National Monument — better called the Grand Confusion — 1998-2000

Having gone through the materials I have on the creation of the Grand Canyon - Parashant national Monument in 2000, and then gone through them again, one thing seems clear: born perhaps in confusion, it certainly went through changes and phases that at the end brought a product that, in terms of its original conception, does not make sense. Let me see if I can tell the story…straight. 

In 1966, the Sierra Club put forth a proposal for a National Park that would include all of the Grand Canyon. “All” meant to look at the main canyon, its tributaries, and the plateaus into which it had dug to reach its great depth. But “all” did not mean to carry the tributaries and plateaus out as far as they could be traced — the Kaibab and the Shivwits and the Coconino Plateaus extend as geologic/topographic features way out beyond their interactions with the Canyon’s erosional reach. And the tributaries: the Little Colorado, Kanab, Havasu-Cataract, and the Paria — surely at some point these are interacting with landscape well beyond that centered on the main stem of the Colorado River, as it passes out of the Triassic and bashes and glides its way 277 miles, past the Grand Wash Cliffs and into the Basin-&-Range. So from the beginning, to talk of the Canyon with its main stem, tributaries, and plateaus was to talk of truncating those lateral features. But how to decide how much to take; is there a logical topographic/geologic line that can drawn to make sense of a proposal to designate, protect, and place before the public a “complete” Grand Canyon?

The best we could come up with, was that the Grand Canyon has a watershed, an area extending out from the main stem that has some topographic logic and integrity. Now, in fact, there is some sense in this, BUT only once you are ready to be severe and lop off, only when you are ready to take the stern measure of drawing a line that includes a watershed, but not an “infinite” watershed, a line that says downstream of this is Grand Canyon; outside, upstream, is not.

Examples: We chose to include Kanab Creek/Canyon up through the junction with Snake Gulch. We chose to follow up Parashant-Andrus Canyons to where they flatten out. We chose the Little Colorado only to where it bends around Cape Solitude. Kaibab Plateau can only have an arbitrary line; it is too much its own feature to subordinate all of it to a Canyon subsidiary, even as it drains east & west into the Canyon. And Shivwits and Kanab Plateaus dwindle off into the distance, so that it is necessary to trace drainages and changes in their direction on a map that on the ground are lost in the sage and juniper. 

But it can be done; we did it in the 1960’s and refined the idea in the 1970’s as we fought to expand the Park boundaries in a “logical” way. Here is one version we used, with boundaries based largely on legal subdivisions. The red areas are what we wanted in the Park; the green are Navajo, Havasupai, & Hualapai Grand Canyon lands that deserved protection and recognition—like the existing Navajo Tribal Parks. The 1975 repatriation of Havasupai land of course changed that middle southern piece from desirable Park into actual Reservation.

The 1970’s Park battle was tough, and had very mixed results; — long story. What was left over from that story was the notion that the western Canyon had not been well treated, parts had been left out of the Park that made sense being in it, and should be looked at more closely: Kanab, Whitmore, Parashant-Andrus Canyons; and the southern extensions, the superb viewing platforms, of the Shivwits Plateau — not all 3 million acres of it, just a few tens of thousands. 
 A 1981 study confirmed the Park values, Kanab upper right, other areas lower left:

The study also, and forcefully, confirmed the presence of powerful contrary interests: the uranium exploiters around Kanab, hunters of the  “trophy” deer (the only kind that live in Park-worthy areas), the families who carried on the remnants of grazing even in parts of the Canyon. 

As the decades have passed, the grazing has dwindled, been bought out (the Waring ranch on the main Shivwits is a fine example). Uranium fever waxes and wanes. However, the odds were stacked too high as far as Kanab Canyon goes: The Forest Service is too wily a defender of its bureaucratic turf; the hunters too vociferous; the uranium too magnetic for those who would mine money. And its 1984 designation as a Wilderness seemed to many a comfortable compromise protection.

Enter Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, in office an astonishing 8 years, 1993-2001. As the Clinton administration was reaching its end, Babbitt decided to make a big effort to designate some natural areas using the Antiquities Act. And he chose to avoid the previous route of a surprise announcement. He wanted to talk about proposals and see who came to his aid and who for his jugular. In his judgment, doing something around the Grand Canyon made sense to him, a long-time user of the Canyon and with family ties, and a place with high public appreciation.
 At some point, possibly 1997, it seems that someone, Babbitt says “an Interior archeologist”, came across the 1981 report. In any case, that report seems to have risen into someone’s consciousness, with its conclusion that areas in the western Canyon had Park value (which the Park Service had been saying since the 1940’s anyway), but not so high that bureaucratic, hunter, and grazing interests would let them achieve their logical Park status. 

In 1998, these elements crystallized in Babbitt’s mind —a geologist by training — into seeing the western areas as part of the Grand Canyon’s watershed that could practicably be considered for Monument protective status under the Antiquities Act. Now it gets tricky. This watershed was a organizing concept for him — he spoke of it in 1998, as public meetings were held in 1999, when he defended the designation in 2000, and as recently as 2012 when I interviewed him about what became the Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument. 

But, —and its a big one—, no map that has made it into public view is limited to the Canyon’s watershed, if that idea is at all related to the one above that animated our work in the 1960’s & 70’s. All the maps used in the 1998-2000 story include land farther west of the Canyon and its drainage, outside its watershed. Here is a BLM example showing the area Babbitt was considering, with the green line delineating the drainage divide, east and south of it being washes and canyons draining into the Canyon, west and north draining through the Grand Wash Cliffs into Lake Mead beyond the Canyon’s end. 

How come all the extra land? The Secretary has said that at some point, he took a map and used magic markers to draw the drainage divide line on it for his staff so they would know just what he intended. That map is well-hidden, if it still exists. Of course, maybe Babbit’s idea of watershed was more expansive than ours; maybe he thought of the Grand Wash Cliffs as part of the Canyon, extending on out into the flats of what is now Lake Mead country. In the various formulations he expresses, the watershed seems a bit how asphalt roadway looks on a hot Arizona afternoon — kind of wavy. 

In any case, the Secretary’s formulations and the maps that were produced (that included lands west of the Grand Wash Cliffs) were soon overwhelmed by a far more ambitious wildlife-based proposal, one that had nothing to do with the Grand Canyon watershed and was certainly blown way up — doubling to a million acres — beyond the good logic involved in a Monument designation for the Whitmore-Parashant-Andrus-Shivwits lands as Grand Canyon country. Nevertheless, in a 2000 speech Babbitt spoke of a “million acres to make (the new Monument) co-extensive with the drainage of the Grand Canyon”.

Sidebar: A first name suggested for the designation was Shivwits National Monument, which was either too big (3 million acres; the entire western half of the Arizona Strip) or too small (just the plateau top, and not the canyons). The current name, Grand Canyon - Parashant came next; it made a bit more sense given that “the Parashant” has long been used for part the area Babbitt was interested in. But then, when the million-acre idea was put forward, taking hundreds of thousands of acres north of the Canyon and its drainage, the GC-P name no longer made sense; the first moniker of “Shivwits” was more appropriate, or Grand Wash - Shivwits maybe.

Possibly the expanded proposal got its foothold because the first maps, supposedly of the Canyon’s watershed, included about 100,000 acres outside its drainage. Maybe when the promoters of the huge expansion saw these westerly townships lying out there, they decided to pile on another 500,000 acres of non-Canyon watershed. What makes this all a bit discomfiting is that the original idea of another piece to “complete” Canyon designations, a piece of about 400,000 acres had ballooned into a million acres, most of which was peripheral to the Canyon. 

And the puzzle remains, what happened to the watershed concept Babbitt had in mind at the start, so that this logical Grand Canyon Monument ballooned into a million-acre wildlife extravaganza? His justifications seemed nebulous, yet he still kept relating it to the Grand Canyon.

Why did the organizations behind the million-acre plan piggy-back on a Canyon proposal, instead of putting forth their own wildlife-oriented entity? Well, Babbitt said that he noticed that people were either for his idea or against it; nobody in opposition was just quibbling about the boundary. So puff it up; nobody would notice. 

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