Friday, July 22, 2016

GCNM 4 The Secretary’s View, 1998-2000

Prelude: Back to Life

It was my good fortune to visit the northwestern segments of the Canyon early after my Western migration. From Toroweap westward to the Shivwits Plateau, from the rim to, and along, the river, I learned what a wonderfully varied landscape it was. When the time came, in the mid-1970’s, to change the Park boundaries, I was hopeful that this region would take its appropriate & logical place in a complete Grand Canyon National Park. Good news; bad news. 

The National Park Service, decades before, had studied and recognized the region’s worth. This story, as the prelude to the establishment of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, can be found in this blog by selecting the tab for The Park, and going down to the section “Looking Even Farther West: Wow! More Canyon!  1930’s-50’s”, particularly the first two entries, 1930-41 & 1942. At that time, however, the federal government’s paramount interest there was in building Bridge Canyon Dam, and NPS attention was channeled into preparing for a then-appropriate recreation area to encompass the western Canyon. Lake Mead NRA was formalized in the 1960’s, just before the period when a national decision was made to keep the Canyon free of any new dams. That decision led to the 1975 Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement  (and Havasupai Repatriation) Act.

The complete Colorado River surface, the inner canyon, much of the mid-level Esplanade covered by the name Sanup, and on up to the Shivwits rim; these lands, and no mean chunk in size and variety, were included in the Park. Not so, the incredible vista places of the western Canyon on the Shivwits’ fingers, nor the sharply incised Andrus-Parashant Canyons, nor the lava-dominated Whitmore drainage. Pointed out by Congress in the Park Enlargement Act’s conference report as worthy of further investigation, that task was left to a motley crew whose bureaucratic sensibilities overrode the areas’ obvious Park-worthiness. That sad story can be read by clicking the blog tab for “The Park”, and going down, near the bottom, to the four entries from “1976: The most ambitious…” through “Final Report: …”.

That report, issued in the environmentally bleak days of the regime of President Reagan and Interior Secretary Watt, admitted the existence of excellent & relevant Park values yet concluded that hunters’ & bureaucrats’ priorities trumped any possibility of further Park consideration. That was in 1981. There the matter rested until 1998, when another Canyon-savvy Arizonan, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, dramatically pumped new air into the  balloon of national recognition of the entire Canyon as environmental icon, a topographic entity with integrity. It did not float exactly as Park advocates like us wanted, but it did open the new millennium by giving more credence to the concept of full Grand Canyon recognition.

As well during the years 1982-97, my efforts on behalf of the Canyon were scanty. I have little material, primary or secondary, from those years. Only when I could return, 1998, to being more full-time occupied by Grand Canyon affairs, did I once again start to accumulate archival material. And only when in 1998 Secretary Babbitt started his Antiquities Act effort for the Canyon and many other places, was the Canyon once again given a national-, federal-level focus. In 2012, I interviewed the former Secretary, specifically about the establishment of Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument (I blogged that interview, and from the tab for The Park, it can be found by clicking on “How the Monument came to be, 1998-2000”). 

That interview, held in one set session, provides the material for “The Babbitt Version”. In the entries following this one, I will use the papers Ive archived for a second run-through that should, when done, supplement the first. In no way will these versions add up to a complete history. Key members of Babbitt’s staff must surely have their own contributions (though they did not reply to my inquiries). Individuals from involved agencies, especially the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, & the Grand Canyon Trust, could also flesh out the story. The official government archives for Interior and Congress no doubt hold lots of material, not all of which would be redundant. So please see this as a sketch of another chapter of Grand Canyon affairs, filling in before the even more recent activities centered on the eastern Canyon.

[It would be nice to think there is a continuity— a grand institutional memory — in these stories over the past 40 years, or even the past 140, but I have seen much too little sign that each effort builds on and is reinforced and illuminated by others. More’s the pity, since the physical presence of the Grand Canyon makes its own insistent case for trying to fit the Canyon’s jurisdictional pieces into an overall framework. The territorial impulses of the owners, claimants, advocates, and administrators have so far largely resisted this “fit”, and indeed, resist even the idea that there could be such an overall framework. End of lament.]

Secretary Babbitt’s Recollected Version

In 1996, President Clinton proclaimed Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. The furor was such it was a couple of years, Babbitt recalled, before he again started to think about more such monuments, all over the west. His own knowledge of Arizona and the Canyon was reinforced by a state-wide poll showing a huge majority thinking well of the Grand Canyon. Moreover, in his words: In 1998,
“one thing I had been thinking about, was watershed. …If youre going to protect this down here, you’ve got to protect everything running off into it….reach back. Western grand canyon, interesting, one place where the monument comes right to the (rim); whether the canyon was park or monument. It may have been part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area; I don’t remember…  protection extended only in this area; nowhere else; powerful way to make the case protecting the canyon and park all the way up. We drew the boundary to make the point; we drew the boundary up here on the watershed, the drainage divide.”

My files have this undated BLM map that I believe delineated Babbitt’s thinking in 1998. The northern boundary follows very closely the divide at the heads of the washes & canyons that drain generally south into the Canyon. (With the exception of the townships in 14W and 15W; they drain west, beyond the Canyon.) He recognized that the 1975 Park boundary had been drawn so that the Park in the Whitmore/Parashant area is very narrow, coming down along the most inner rim, not “protecting the canyon and park all the way up”. Above that was the Lake Mead Area, and then a big swath of public land administered by BLM — lands that were open, and subject to protection under the Antiquities Act. 

In the interview, Babbitt said that at some point in the discussion, he took the topographic map and a magic marker and traced the drainage divide for his staff. “I wasnt sure that they understood what I meant, so I did a whole bunch with magic markers; (then told them:) do this correctly”. That map — one hopes housed in the Secretary’s archives — would show whether Babbitt’s idea of the drainage included the western townships that do not drain into the Canyon, or whether these were  added on by those on his staff and BLM who worked up the details “correctly”.

So his proposal, reinforced by a trip into the area in the fall of 1998, was to bring the boundary of the protected & recognized Canyon areas up from along the innermost rim, over the plateaus of the drainage to the divide, some 20 miles north. He did not see this area as being added to the Park; it would be left under the current administrations of the Lake Mead NRA and of BLM. He took the Superintendents from GCNP and LMNRA with him on his trip, on which they “trekked around on the canyon rim” and “climbed a little outlier where survivors of Powell’s trip had written the arrow that says water”. He took this opportunity to make it clear that the new monuments would not be transferred to the Park Service, and this would put BLM in “conservation mode”. He told the two agencies to figure out how to manage the area jointly. He opined: “There was not that much going on up there. Some (private interests) had been bought out. All they had to do was keep track of the land.”

The Secretary also believed it was important this time to provide the opportunity for public reaction before presidential action. Babbitt provided for two big public meetings and many smaller ones with officials. The big one at Flagstaff turned into chaos, he said, because opponents bused in a bunch of people. But the one in Colorado City was very orderly, because he (Babbitt) had a very good relationship with these “quite honest and decent people”, including the town’s leader, who turned his people out, with only a few dissidents. His parishoners were just quietly in favor. 
All this was very different from the Escalante Monument proclamation, where “we just threw it over the transom (which) caused a huge reaction, partly justified”. So on Grand Canyon, we consulted, and that meant we listened. Babbitt recollected: “I was worried about the backlash and made (the proposal) small. Then the Grand Canyon Trust came forward with a proposal to add lands with a northern and western drainage. Now what we heard was that people were either for creating a Monument or against it; the boundary was not a matter of public contention. So adding the area the Trust suggested did not cause additional criticism. 

Babbitt insists his procedures “fundamentally transformed the way the Antiquities Act was used. It had never, ever, been done this way.” After these public consultations, ”drawing the venom”, Babbitt said the second piece was to “let Congress do it” — if they wanted to. It had worked with Otai, an area in California. But in this case, he made the offer, and the Arizona delegation did not take it up. There was one hearing with Rep. Jeff Flake on the House side, and it was clear to Babbitt, who testified, they were indifferent; all they wanted to do was complain. I didnt tell them to do it; just said they could if they wanted. The bill Rep. Stump introduced was a “sham”, so he felt justified in going ahead with Antiquities Act action after six months of waiting.

“Look”, he said, “I love the place; been there all my life, doing things. But the reason this was selected is because it could carry a monument easy. Nobody could object.”
When asked about specific interests’ opposition, the only use he mentioned was the river take-out at Whitmore Wash, which wasnt really a problem. Bob Euler was involved on behalf of the Paiutes, and concluded that there was no effect on them.
“I paid some fairly detailed attention to that boundary issue, making sure Arnberger and O’Neill were on the same page on administration and public outreach. For BLM it wasnt such a large issue; Escalante heavily engrossed them. 

Governing seems forever to be a learning process. Bruce Babbitt’s impulses, local knowledge, and experience in office provide a positive view of government action — which in this case both represented public desires and impacted private interests — that provide an excellent lesson in that oft-reviled, but utterly necessary, human activity we call (democratic) politics, the arts of persuasion.

In the next entries, I will retrace and fill out the events leading up to President Clinton’s proclamation of the Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument.

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