Friday, July 22, 2016

GCNM 4 Waiting, 1999

This part of the story follows two paths. The first sums up the mysteries surrounding how the original Grand Canyon watershed idea was doubled and conceptually transformed. The second recounts the Arizona delegation’s retrograde, and futile, effort to derail an Antiquities Act creation of a Monument.


There was Babbitt’s watershed concept, which he would reiterate over the years. There was a wildlife/habitat concept, twice the size of Babbitt’s, originated and lobbied for by Arizona-based environmental groups. By what chain of decision-making did the first get replaced by the second?

I have made what I think are good faith efforts to determine how the wildlife concept replaced the watershed concept sometime in 1999. I have interviewed former Secretary Babbitt, and former Grand Canyon Trust president Geoff Barnard. I have tried to locate the papers that undoubtedly were generated in the Secretary’s office — to no avail. Babbitt doesnt know where they are, nor do the official archive keepers in NARA and Interior (a circular search involving four people that ended up my being referred to where I began). I have tried, using email and telephone, to interview then-Solicitor John Leshy, lawyer-advisor Mark Squillace, key Babbitt assistant (he praised highly her knowledge of this entire process) Molly McUsic, BLM liaison Kim Harb, GC Wildlands staff Kelly Burke. I only detail this matter here because it would seem a simple matter to determine the timeline of such recent, and low-controversy, events. I guess people are too busy making history to help record it. Anyway, here is what I know —

The Trust and allies, convinced of the over-riding worth of a wildlife habitat designation, must have decided at some point (after the June town hall?) that a direct appeal needed to be made to the Secretary by people he trusted if the idea was to gain traction. Geoff Barnard, President of the Grand Canyon Trust at the time, told me that David Getches, a long-time associate of Babbitt’s and president of the Trust board, arranged a meeting with the Secretary in Washington. Though he did not recall the date, Barnard and Getches met with Babbitt alone. Barnard remembers rolling out the map of the million-acre proposal originated by the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, and discussing it, though he emphasized that he was only the messenger for the groups pushing the idea. Barnard remembers Babbitt’s reaction as “non-committal”. 

Trust representatives (who? when?) also met some time with Interior Solicitor John Leshy, whom with Molly McUsic, Babbitt named as the staff people involved.

Here is how Babbitt recalls the Trust’s intervention, in an article in the Trust’s summer 2010 Advocate:
“Our next project was on the Shivwits Plateau, which adjoins Grand Canyon National Park on the north and west. We outlined a 500,000 acre monument proposal and scheduled public meetings. Imagine my surprise and chagrin when advocates, led by the Trust, came forward in the press and at hearings to complain that my proposal was too timid. The monument should protect at least a million acres.
So I went back to the maps, looked at the actual contours of the watershed draining into the Canyon tributaries and acknowledged that we could do more. We came back with a revised proposal for a million acres, which ultimately became the Grand Canyon- Parashant National Monument.”

There is myth-making going on here. He does not mention any personal meetings (nor did he in my interview with him). However, If he had gone back to the maps to look at the contours of the Grand Canyon’s watershed, he would have surely seen that the larger proposal drained west and then into Lake Mead, beyond the Canyon. His original 500 kac idea had indeed taken in the Canyon’s missing watershed areas. How did he become convinced that the radical conceptual re-drafting & doubling of the Wildlands/Trust proposal fit “the actual contours of the watershed draining into the Canyon tributaries”. 

When he spoke to me, he described the process this way, not mentioning the Trust or any outside group:
I took out a topographic map and a magic marker, and traced the drainage divide, then handed it to my staff and said this is what I mean by drainage divide. I wasn't sure that they understood what I meant, so I did a whole bunch with magic markers. Now, do this correctly, I told them.

With respect to the doubled proposal, Babbitt said he realized after the town halls that opposition to the Monument was only about doing it, not its size, so it would cause no more fuss if he did double it.

So now, the conception that the Secretary had of the Canyon watershed as embodied in maps— and those first maps did go west of the actual Canyon to include and extend beyond the Grand Wash Cliffs — was hugely expanded to the north and west, scooping up the Cottonwood/Grand Wash drainages that are topographically west out of the Grand Canyon watershed. This discrepancy between spoken word and map was present in a minor way in Babbitt’s first pronouncements on this project in 1998. 

The details reside in so-far inaccessible memories and wandering papers. Only a little imagination, however, is needed to see the Secretary going through the announcement and town hall meetings, and then concluding in the summer of 1999 that he was going to be free to act however he thought best. He could have reviewed the matter with staff in the fall and decided that they might as well throw in another half a million acres — nobody seemed much concerned about the acreage. 

Well, thats not much in the way of a story, and given that his original watershed concept was so upstaged by the wildlife habitat concept, it would have been more satisfying to have come across evidence of discussion and debate.


After the meeting in Colorado City — taking some of the sting out of the tumultuous Flagstaff outing — and personal meetings with officials and other local notables, Secretary Babbitt was ready to see what the Arizona delegation would do. In late June, Congressman Bob Stump, in whose district the Canyon was located (though he was from Phoenix) was writing: “I still remain optimistic that the Secretary … will include the delegation in an open and public process”. However, Babbitt had indicated it was up to the delegation if they wished take an initiative; he still had 18 months. 

On 5 August, Stump did introduce the “Shivwits Plateau National Conservation Area Establishment Act”, HR 2795. He spoke of “months of meetings” with locals, the business community, and Native Americans, and a balance with the Secretary’s concerns. The legislation was to protect biodiversity and ecological richness while increasing public use and preserving the traditional lifestyle. It covered 570 kac of BLM and NPS administered lands, but would take the LMNRA lands and put them under BLM, which would develop a management plan to reflect all interests. A long process was to be set up to evaluate and encourage mineral potential. Grazing, logging, and local communities would all be given protection.

If nothing else, the extension of BLM jurisdiction while providing it with less of a mandate to protect and enhance the landscape was anathema to Babbitt’s intentions. Instead of reaching out to the entire Strip and the several agencies involved in its management, the Stump  approach narrowed and restricted federal jurisdiction. An advisory committee would be tilted toward user interests. Grazing, roads of all kinds, and plane flight routes, would all be protected. I was especially distressed by the narrow scope and a mandate to improve roads.  
(I was also out of the country from August through November.)

There was a hearing on the Stump bill in October. Apparently its only effect was that Babbitt was able to testify and denounce the Stump measure as a degradation of an area he wanted to recognize and further protect. He was joined by environmentalists before a subcommittee of the House Resources Committee. They denounced a bill that would allow use of toxic herbicides and plants being bulldozed. They feared the loss of wilderness areas and archeological sites.

Without knowing for sure, I suspect that at the outset, Babbitt had some hope that if Senator McCain led the legislative way, there might have been a proposal worth talking about. However, he knew that should it be left to Stump or Kyl, the other Senator, nothing would be done, since their attitudes were not just anti-Park, but anti-federal government. In the event, McCain made no move, and even worse, on the Grand Canyon issue of aircraft overflights — on which he had taken positive action in earlier years — McCain joined those protecting the air tour operators, working to gut the process of lessening noise and visual intrusion from the air.

Babbitt gave monument opponents six months.  In December, Stump was still writing that he was “extremely disappointed that Secretary Babbitt has chosen to ignore our efforts”, and opposing a monument designation. Senator Kyl had introduced a bill similar to Stump’s, quite possibly just for the show of the thing.


So with no sign of positive action by Arizonans, Secretary Babbitt made his move, as reported in the New York Tiimes and Arizona Republic on 13 Dec. That day, the Secretary was ready to ask the President to proclaim four monuments: the Grand Canyon - Parashant, Agua Fria, Pinnacles, California Coast. 

The Canyon designation (its fourth monument in a century) was doubled to a million acres, as per the Wildlife Council/environmentalist wish to include non-Grand Canyon watershed land that would recognize wildlife values. The article noted that Babbitt had successfully worked with Republicans in Congress on some areas, but not these four. Stump had “actively opposed Babbitt and pushed instead for more mining, road building and air tours”. He was “surprised (and) extremely disappointed”, and there had not been enough time to consider the proposals. “Not fair to the public”, according to Stump and Arizona Governor Hull, who stressed opposition to the unilateral process. The articles noted that Babbitt had “hosted numerous hiking tours and town halls throughout the West to generate support”, which he found in Colorado and Oregon. His ground for designation included continuation of ranching and hunting, while excluding miners and developers from ruining the landscape and fouling the waters of the Strip. 

The opposition of the Arizona delegation was described as well as legislation by a Utah Representative to restrict the president’s discretion over federal lands. 

The Arizona delegation and governor immediately wrote to the President opposing use of the Antiquities Act on any Arizona lands. Congress must be directly involved in final decisions of land management. They had engaged in a public process, to begin a dialogue. We have asked for, but not been granted, a meeting with the Secretary. Yet we learn through a newspaper that he intends to move ahead, and with a proposal that is double what he put forward a year ago. They pleaded with the President to allow ongoing legislative processes to continue — and I have to wonder, given that the Republicans had just disrupted those processes, and the country, with their drive to remove Clinton through impeachment, whether he did not thoroughly enjoy the chance to use the Antiquities Act to stick his presidential pen in their eye. 

Babbitt was to emphasize his early commitment to protection of the area, “the Grand Canyon drainage”. It was not an arbitrary choice of land, he claimed, but tied to the drainage, although he had responded to the more expansive concept. A summary sheet, undated, no author, says this: “Much of the proposed boundary follows the divide between the Grand Canyon and the Virgin River drainage to the north.” (This is not so; the Grand Wash drainage, including Cottonwood Wash, comes between the Virgin River drainage and the Grand Canyon drainage.) He noted his many meetings, and the lack of sympathy for the Stump bill. The text accompanying the news release did not feature the reasons behind the doubling. 

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

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

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeff, still looking good and doing good work. An old fan.