Friday, July 22, 2016

GCNM 4 The Secretary Listens, 1999

Secretary Babbitt had a concept of a Grand Canyon watershed as the foundation for further protective designation of the northwestern Grand Canyon. The area was overwhelmingly under Interior jurisdiction, in either Lake Mead National Recreation Area or public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The set-up was prime ground for a presidential Antiquities Act proclamation. Nevertheless, rather than act first and then listen to the outrage, Babbitt chose to make his plan public in a preliminary way, thus providing the opportunity for public officials and the citizenry to offer up their views and alternative ways to proceed. 

There would be opposition. There could be legislative action. Some might not be satisfied with the area Babbitt chose, or worried about incompatible uses. There would be public convocations of some sort with the Secretary available to explain and defend. Consultations would take place with local officials as well as the Arizona congressional delegation. The amount of formality in considering the proposal would depend on reaction from outside Interior. Urgency seemed not to be the prime concern; in December 1998, aides of Senator McCain and others had met with Interior staff, but were given nothing on paper; ideas were just floating. McCain — a key player, many thought, because of pro-Canyon moves in the past — would not even be available until earlly 1999. And when Babbitt and McCain did meet, the latter emphasized he preferred a legislative route. Lots of staff discussion followed.

In writing to various officials, I tried to be both encouraging of the idea, and also express my worry that the Monument idea did not “face up to the consequent impact on the rest of the Arizona Strip.” I suggested a Strip-wide approach in coordination with the other land agencies and the Arizona Game & Fish Dep’t.

The Grand Canyon Wildlands Council had been working on identifying large swaths of the Strip in pursuit of the concept of protecting wildlife habitat & migration corridors. Although not part of the Grand Canyon watershed, one of its proposals stretched all along the Grand Wash Cliffs on the west side of the Shivwits Plateau and down in to the Cottonwood basin draining to Lake Mead. 
This concept of a north-south designated protective area of the western Arizona Strip was supported by an ecological assessment produced by the Council. This proposal was adopted by the Grand Canyon Trust and other organizations, to be the position taken in upcoming public meetings. The Trust also met with state Game & Fish, who had their concerns about habitat protection and wildlife introductions. (Documentation of all of this probably exists, though scattered about.)
The Grand Canyon Trust, with its long-standing ties to Babbitt (he was in on its founding), adopted the GCWC proposal to double the area. Other groups may have been in favor, but were not much exercised.

In February, BLM was setting up a public meeting in Flagstaff for March 15, the Secretary to attend. It was preparing slide shows and other publicity material. There had been a field trip out Tuweep with a few dozen local officials, congressional staff, and NPS. It was all very friendly, but from opposite ends of the spectrum. The state game department had long-standing programs (bighorn, antelope, e.g.) on the Strip about which it was very proprietary, and worried about BLM being able to protect the area. G&F led a group of state officials to the area. 

Interior settled in early March on using a large auditorium (at NAU) for a “town hall”, with Babbitt making a presentation, followed by question-&-answer. Babbitt still hoped that McCain would offer legislation, and there was lots of discussion at the staff level, along with the field trips. However, McCain indications remained passive.  
In discussions, BLM was saying that the Secretary’s goals were that hunting & grazing would be little affected. Important to him was that the land had been closed to mining. In the end, if McCain declined to act, there would be an administration initiative.

The Town Hall Meeting took place Monday evening 15 Mar in the NAU library. There was a full house (est. of 500). BLM started, emphasizing it was not a formal hearing; there would be no transcript. Its slide show talk was mostly views of the Grand Canyon, and emphasized its remoteness—11,000 visits a year. Babbitt, greeted with a few boos, started by saying he worked in the area in 1959, and thought the landscape was improving, due to work by graziers and BLM. He wanted to act before bad things started to happen, thinking 50 years ahead. He recalled Park fights with grazing families and hunters. No commercial timber, and practically no mining interest. What he wanted to avoid were the “40-acre swindlers” dividing up the lands. He was very firm: “I want this to happen.” So something has to happen, a Monument is possible if nothing else. I have 18 months, he emphasized. 

The content of the “questions” was pretty classic. The GC Trust asked that twice as much area be set aside.  [I thought this very unfortunate, since the area they recommended and which was in the final Monument Proclamation, was all northwest of the Canyon’s drainage, and diluted Babbitt’s justification. On the other hand, most of the Arizona Strip would still be open to what Babbitt said he feared.]

A hunter wanted to use his 4wd, so the area was not just for the “young & fit”. Fredonia’s mayor worried about stealing from the children, loss of tax base, and being locked out. The Wildlands Council focussed on wildlife and ecological care but seemed not to mention a million-acre designation. The Kaibab Paiute chairwoman favored the Monument to preserve its pristineness (the proposal covered land lived on by the Shivwits Paiute before the Mormons crowded them out). I asked that this be an opportunity for legislation to look at protecting the entire Arizona Strip. A Utahan wanted timber cut on Mt Trumbull. Anti-Monument speakers said there would be no development because the local ranchers would not want it.
   Archeologist R. Euler spoke of the need to protect ruins and other sites. A motorcycle group did not want 3 & 4 wheelers barred; the disabled need to see places. There were student speakers, too, more radical in their desire to protect the land and its ecology. Someone feared increased visitation and continued grazing; benign neglect would be better. Legislation was called for, and management plans. A Bundy family member, with winter range on the LMNRA asked if they were going to lose this heritage, too. (Yes, they did; grazing is ended there now.) 
  The Kanab City Council wanted the economic development that a Monument would bring. A miner called for a boycott. Others were anti-preservation and anti-lock-out. Some wanted timber on the Kaibab (the long-time logging firm had pulled out due to economic reasons). A speaker called for talking together, and praised the Trust as reasonable. Babbitt should resign offered another. The Strip is a place for anti-federal ownership, with a need for local regulation. A local cowboy attacked the students as unwanted “green volunteers”; the ranchers have preserved these lands. (The history of grazing on the Strip will record immense over-grazing into the early 20th-century, followed by BLM-grazier attempts at some recovery, still going on.) A few others spoke against, but in general terms.
 The GCTrust repeated its recommendation for the GCWC doubling, emphasizing wildlife. The Arizona Mule Deer Assoc, a hunting group, said the wildlife was in good shape; they were anti-development, but all was thriving. A SW Forest Alliance spokesperson asked for a bigger area — to boos. Another Kaibab Paiute wanted his people to be consulted — the uranium miners had welshed on providing education dollars. A few spoke of their concerns about visitation and change in management; federal lands are the problem, and development would be bad. The last speaker was a Heaton, a family long there, and owner of the Whitmore ranch/river take-out stop-over. He and the 20 ranchers affected were worried about the 100s of thousands of visitors. Leave it, he said, crying, as it is. [Amen.]

Babbitt, in his interview with me, maintained the meeting had been stacked with his opponents, bused in from local communities. (Even my light acquaintance with residents in those years confirmed a deep dislike of and a tendency to blame, the feds.) The Flagstaff newspaper seemed to agree, its headline: “Shivwits proposal slammed; Ranchers tell Babbit to leave Arizona Strip alone”. The article quoted the anti speakers. But Babbitt insisted “something good will come out of this…we will keep talking”. His emphasis definitely appeared to be on using the Antiquities Act. The Trust’s doubling proposal was given prominence in the story, as it was in the principal Phoenix paper: “Monument needs to grow, group says”, but “critics call Shivwits proposal a land grab”. The lead was the Trust’s call for a million-acre area to protect “wildlife migration corridors”, prevent uranium mining, and stop off-road vehicle abuse. Opponents called it “Clinton Land Grab II”, number I being the Grand Staircase Escalante proclamation. 

Traveling about the Strip, I heard a rumor that a second meeting would be held out at the old Bundyville schoolhouse — the settlement itself was mostly deserted, though there was little inclination to sell any holdings. This was a question because mostly the Strip in the area of interest to Babbitt is federal land — except for the large patch so obvious on a land status map, raising the obvious question — could it be developed as a super-Tusayan? Even to the extent of what Heaton was doing at his boaters’ way-station in Whitmore?
 I learned a little more about the economy of firewood cutting and about changes since I first visited 30 years before. Logging was still done by locals; commercial operation had been done too fast to be sustainable. The sawmill out on the Shivwits had  burned; logs remained on Twin Point. The rancher with the big allotment on the Shivwits, Warner, came from New York; eventually sold out to federal government (Lake Mead NRA).

The schoolhouse meeting idea was dropped, first for a St. George site, and then finally for Colorado City.

It seemed to me Babbitt’s Monument was missing out on the opportunity to co-opt people in the area — the Kaibab Paiute, the old settler families — to enrich the geological and wildlife aspects of the area with its human history. Also, it was clearer to me — out there — that it could be more of an attraction than a protection, and a wider view was needed. So I wrote an open letter to the Secretary and circulated it among people who might be interested, emphasizing the long-term range of human activity on the Strip, and the potential for historically oriented Strip protection. I should note here that my experiment at that time was to see if an individual, committed and knowledgeable, could make any impact on public affairs without association connections. End result — I think not. My Grand Canyon - Arizona Strip Historical & Wildlife Region elicited no interest. 
  During this period, I was part of a discussion group set up by the Forest Service and BLM to assess the grazing situation of the eastern Strip, including the Kaibab Plateau. A California investor had recently purchased the extensive Kane Ranch operation, and the discussions were aimed at seeing if a grazing plan could be arranged that would satisfy a wide range of local and organizational stake-holders. I found this an intensely interesting exercise and one that introduced me to a range of people in a venue where ideas could be discussed, not just stated and counter-stated. I think particularly well of F.S. North Kaibab District Ranger Jill Leonard and Fredonia’s Mayor Joy Jordan. Each in their own sphere were trying to bring solutions forward that would enhance future outcomes, not just entrench old attitudes.

The Arizona governor and congressional delegation threw down their own gauntlet on 29 Mar in a letter opposing any move to “unilaterally designate” a monument. They wanted congressional involvement. However, little information had been made available by Interior, and only one meager outreach attempt had been made. Claiming they were eager to work on the matter, they awaited a response from Babbitt. 
This was going to be a problem, since Babbitt had adopted the position that if legislation was put forward, he would engage with the process, but he would not be the initiator.

There was a BLM & congressional staff trip 26-7 March. Senator Kyl was rumored to be taking a helicopter swing. From what i could glean, other attempts were made to inform, but not necessarily to gain consent. This sense was also that of the Sierra Club representative, his guess being that Babbitt would “go through a lot of motions to talk”, then go ahead and do the Monument. 

BLM laid out that Babbitt direction in an undated summary on “The Proposed National Monument on the Shivwits Plateau”. It began by emphasizing the Strip as a living and working landscape, living traditions from Native American and pioneer forebears. Few such vast undisturbed landscapes were left: extensive prehistoric and historic remains, abundant & unique wildlife & flora, stunning vistas, remoteness and solitude, wilderness. The lands were almost brought into the 1975 Park, but would have ended hunting & grazing. Still, more protection was appropriate, said the 1981 study. Babbitt had now put a proposal on the table for a Monument, to protect it from damaging impacts, while allowing hunting & grazing. 

So far the justifications and considerations were: Leave open to grazing and hunting. Existing rights including to water would be valid. Leave agencies in place. Babbitt’s cards are on the table. He will respect the views, and wants to protect scientific and historic resources, unique biota, extraordinary vistas and environmentally important areas. Damaging uses would be barred, e.g. mining, logging. Mt Trumbull restoration would continue. Monument would be a middle way; public discussion on-going. 

In late May, another meeting was set for 1 June in Colorado City. In his 2012 interview with me, Babbitt mentioned his cultivation of the town leaders and his expectation that it would be less unpleasant than the Flagstaff to-do. Meeting attendees went through police lines; it was heavily enough attended that there were seats outside. Before I went in, I saw Mayor Jordan, who had met Babbitt that afternoon; he was very open, she said, and the question of legislation would be decided in a week or so. 

Babbitt’s opening referred back to his “interesting night” in Flagstaff, and his concern that the “future is coming at us” — mineral entry and 40-acre plot land schemes his concern. He was still speaking of 550 k acres. He opposed Park designation. The speakers, though not as raucous as the opponents in Flagstaff, still questioned the utility of a designation, the lack of guarantees for what they had, over-regulation. When someone said there was no water for development, Babbitt mentioned Tusayan and its area, always under pressure, even with “no” water. I urged he look at whole Strip.  The idea of a Conservation Area was brought up. One speaker was strong on preservation, fearful of ATVs and mining. People For USA, a local anti-federal-lands group, spoke up, as did the ATV users’ group. In talking about how to do discussions, Babbitt would meet with ranchers, and wanted politicos to negotiate. Others spoke for protection, though designating more Parks was opposed. Your mind is already made up, asserted one, although it was noted that at least he was listening. A few more opponents were heard before the Grand Canyon Trust rep ended the meeting asking for both for the Monument and legislation. 

The Kanab weekly paper called Babbitt “slightly defensive”, and practically “tarred and feathered” in Flagstaff. The majority was described as questioning the need for a monument. Babbitt kept coming back to mining as the key threat, and claimed his plan would be better for the local people than a more restrictive status. 
It also reported on an earlier meeting at which Babbitt boosted the Monument to a group of elected officials: federal money for roads, visitor center, bigger tourist draw, better management of hunting & grazing. He repeated his intention to have action taken. Concerned about mining & logging, yes, but did not want to see public land cut up and sold. He had stayed away from Kanab due to existing mining. He urged local people to come up with road proposals, though he didnt  want to encourage them all. Somebody spoke up for a bridge across upper Lake Mead. 

One group the Secretary was likely to heed was the Grand Canyon Trust, which he had helped start up in the 1980’s. The Trust had spoken at the town meetings, urging a doubling in size. This recommendation arose from the work of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, a regional organization with, in the words of their current website, this mission statement:  “We want future generations to inherit a continent rich in wildlife, with plenty of room for all species to roam.  We want to feel safe knowing that our environment can weather the effects of growing human development and climate change.  We want to be proud of our natural heritage.  And we want to know that we have acted responsibly by caring for and sustaining the lands, waters and wildlife that enrich our lives.”

The doubled proposal was conceptually different from Babbitt’s. The Secretary, an old Canyon hand, spoke of wanting to round out the Canyon’s watershed, mostly the areas left out of the 1975 Enlargement Act. The early Monument proposal maps carry out this idea, although the western end did include lands draining through and beyond the Grand Wash Cliffs, not part of the Canyon’s watershed. The Wildlands Council’s idea was oriented to the north and west, and based on the area as wildlife habitat (I summarize drastically here; their idea was supported by a survey report, which I describe in more detail in connection with the Monument’s proclamation). 

The Trust and other environmental groups adopted and circulated the Council’s doubling proposal, with the Monument running north toward the Utah border to include Wilderness and the habitats of pronghorn & desert tortoise. The “remoteness and wildness” was emphasized. They ignored the 4000-year human history, except to warn of the threats created by increasing activity like vehicles and mining. 

Overall, the months between announcement and public reaction seemed totally predictable, but perhaps the important point of hearing those predictable responses before acting instead of after, was, indeed, a significant gain. 

Sources: From my files, newspaper articles, my notes on meetings and phone contacts, official papers, my correspondence.

Telephone Interview 3 Jun 2016 with Geoff Barnard, President of the Grand Canyon Trust at the time

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