Reader beware. I recorded my September 27, 2012, interview with former (1993-2001) Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and then transcribed it. This post is that material, gathered into topics. My goal was to produce his words, smoothed, ordered, and connected for reading purposes, but trying to keep his voice. I did not use quotation marks or paraphrasing.
My main focus was his personal role in, and reflections on, the establishment of the Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument (the fourth for the Canyon). What I like about this material is that it became a mini-essay on governance in a society in which openness and participation are central values. When "I" is used, that is Babbitt in smoothed quote. Material in parentheses is explanation or bridging for smoothness. In an exchange, B is for B.Babbitt, J for me.
Here is a map of the Monument as it now exists -- . The southern purple part within the red line is in Lake Mead National Recreation Area; the purple south of that is Grand Canyon National Park. The bulk of the Monument is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and contains three wilderness areas. The light blue, mostly square, patches are state lands, while the gray is private. Extending the black line of the south-going road inside the Monument more or less west would outline the drainage area into the Canyon itself as the eastern "half" (see the second map below). West and north of that line, the drainage is over the Grand Wash Cliffs into Lake Mead.
Now to the actual remarks of former Secretary Babbitt from the interview, topics in caps:
TO THE DRAINAGE DIVIDE; USE OF THE ANTIQUITIES ACT FOR THE CANYON:
The President (Clinton, in reaction to controversy over his 1996 Antiquities Act proclamation of the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument) wasn't very comfortable with the idea of doing any more, and so a couple of years went by. About 98, 99, I began to think about what to do next ; a lot of different ideas all over the West. Obviously I wanted to make the next one at least not controversial. I have a certain visibility in Arizona. I know the political culture. I had seen a quite remarkable state-wide poll about monuments; a huge majority favored, just generally. And the (Grand C)anyon. Its an iconic place…really a way to get into this without…stirring so much controversy.
Obviously the canyon itself was protected, but the one thing I did, had been thinking about, was watershed. If you're going to protect whats down here, you’ve got to protect everything running off into it; reach back. … Western Grand Canyon; its really interesting. One place where the monument comes right to the rim and no more. Dont know whether the Canyon was Park or Monument at that point. It may have been part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.--I don't remember. What we saw was the protection extended only in this area to the (inner) rim, nowhere else. It would be a powerful way to make the case for protecting the Canyon by protecting the tributaries all the way up, beyond the rim. We drew the boundary to make the point; we drew the boundaries up here on the watershed, the drainage divide...
J (referring to map) You made your first proposal…which is the drainage into the Canyon, (then) the Grand Canyon Trust proposed something to you.
B They were involved., I don’t remember their boundary as well as you do; they were saying its not enough--the original proposal. (Pointing to map) this is the boundary we originally proposed right here:
J And then the Trust was the one who came to you and said, make it bigger.
B That’s absolutely right.
(Later in the interview:)
B At some point in this stuff, I took out a topographic map and a magic marker, and traced the drainage divide,
J You did that.
B I did.
J Did you save that piece of paper?
B I 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.
J Well I hope that piece of paper is in the Archives.
B It probably is. I can tell you I don’t have it… Anything on paper is stashed away somewhere in the Archives. Some regret I didn’t take a few things. I once got a wonderful letter from Strom Thurmond, and I didn’t even keep that.
Molly McUsik and John Leshy would be the people (involved in discussing this).
Mark (Squillace is) another guy who would remember a lot more about this than I do, that’s absolutely true.
NPS & BLM:
(Asked about the role of the Park Service, especially GCNP Superintendent Arnberger:)
I took Arnberger camping with me up there; we all went up, when we were in the process of looking at it, we took a trip up here and I had Arnberger from the Grand Canyon and the guy from Lake Mead Recreation Area, I think, O'Neill was there… Alan O'Neill, and we all went and made camp up here, and drove down to the rim in a couple of places, and went up, climbed up tha little outlier here where the survivors of Powell’s trip had written the arrow that says water on it; we went up and looked at that. Kinda trekked around on the Canyon rim there and by then, I had expanded, youre right.
J Why didn’t Arnberger say give it to me; add it to the park.
B Because he was smart enough to be listening to me. He heard me explain what I wanted to do (was to) put these monuments under the jurisdiction of BLM in order to give it a conservation mission. Ultimately, I think the management here is jointly with BLM and the Park Service, and what I told Arnberger was we’re not creating monuments and transferring them to Park Service anymore. That was the big decision at Escalante.
J You weren’t thinking, well, in ten years it would be part of a park?
J you were thinking that BLM, that that management was a good thing, period?
BLM: Absolutely. And I explained that. You know, we had another objective here, BLM, to put it into a conservation mode. You can't do that by simply taking all their crown jewels and giving them to the Park Service. He understood that. He didn’t fight back. And I did say, look, this place oughta be managed jointly, you guys figure that out. And I didn’t spend a lot of time micromanaging the content of whatever they had. Its worked out fine… There's nuthin up here, you know, its not like it’s a huge Park Service project. All you’ve got to do is keep track of the land. You could do some improvements. I think (some private land) has been bought out now. … As far as Im concerned, it should stay in BLM forever.
I would say, BLM was, they weren’t quite rushing into this; they still weren’t quite thinking of the implications of all of this. They were so engrossed in the Escalante decision that they were really; look, much of this country was administered out of St. George. They were all obsessed with the political problems over Escalante, which were really huge. They just went on endlessly. So I don’t think they were paying a lot of attention. The Director of the BLM, by this time, was probably Tom Fry. He understood this, and was very positive, but it hadn’t really, for the reason just explained, it wasn’t a large issue for BLM.
J Well then looking back on it, do you think it did change BLM. (There were) eight years of the Bush administration.
B Well, let me just say this. The remarkable thing is that the Bush administration, it didn’t make any effort to repeal any of these issues. We had set up this Landscape Conservation System, which is now in law, but it wasn’t then. I mean it was an executive order when I left office. And it was significant, because it was a way sort of embedding these ideas in BLM, and giving them some resources. And I think a lot of us were surprised that the Bush administration did not try to cancel that. I don’t really know why; I think there were advocates for it in BLM by then. It wasn’t creating a lot of controversy; they didn’t…
Now what went on at the level of some of the management plans ;it was perhaps a different story, the real skirmishes in the BLM are over the RMPs (range management plans), and you know, it’s a very structured planning process. You can make a lot of mischief in it. And the issue in the RMP up here, as I recall, in the, at Parashant, was off-road, was off-road use, and by the time the RMP process came up, some of the groups had kinda been alerted. This is all in the Bush administration, and Im not really up-to-date on that. But by then, they had really started…You know there is a trade-off here, because if you put something into the Park system, they’ve got a much stronger bureaucracy and they’ve got the charisma of public opinion, and it’s a little harder to run over the Park Service than the BLM, although this is all relative, as they say.
It was important to get this right because we hadn’t done it for a couple of years. We had at least two big public meetings, one at Flagstaff; which turned into chaos because the opponents bused a whole bunch of people into Flagstaff.
Colorado City. Now that one was very orderly. I will tell you why. I, for whatever reason, had a very good relationship with people in Colorado City, including the old guy--I forget his name--, were quite honest and decent people. And I had a good relationship with him. I called him up and said can we use your hall? He said, “Sure." And he said, "I will turn my people out.” Now his people were following his advice, which is: be polite to the Secretary; if he wants to do this; we are going to be quietly in favor. Turned into a very orderly meeting. A few dissidents way up in back. It was clear that he was stacking the audience, his parishioners. It was kinda the opposite.
J it was just, Flagstaff was opposite?
B Yeah, I expected great friendliness, a homecoming. Expected all hell to break loose in Colorado City; it was perfectly calm.
PURPOSE OF MEETINGS:
Basically, listening. Amazing how far that will go. You see, what we did at Grand Staircase, we just threw it over the transom. And it caused a huge reaction. Part of it was justified. They said nobody ever consulted us about this. You know, We drew the boundaries of Grand Staircase on my office floor. And there was no consultation. And this being the next one, we can do a consultation; its a legitimate concern. It made a huge difference because people were still opposed, but they could no longer say, you know, they are not even bothering to talk to us. A lot of people in discussions were (concerned) about boundaries, … I was worried there would be backlash (so) made it as small, arbitrarily made it very small rather than square this off.
Now, after the Grand Canyon Trust came forward and they had hearings, it was perfectly clear you were either for it or against it, and where we put the boundaries wasn’t going to make
any difference because there was nothing there.
And that really responded to the moment. And I guess we threw in that western drainage just to make it complete…The real discussion point was from here to here; Im saying, Im going to avoid unnecessary contention, then realizing that there wouldn’t be any contention about boundaries, might as well start moving (them farther) out.
HOW TO GOVERN, :
As Ive explained, I paid some fairly detailed attention to that boundary issue, to making sure that Arnberger and O’Neill were on the same page in terms of how this place was going to be administered. And in terms of public outreach. I paid a lot of attention to those. Lots.
J it was kind of a democratic effort; if all you did was listen.
B Absolutely. It did fundamentally (emphasized) transform the way the Antiquities Act was used. It had never, ever, been done this way. Usually, last day of president’s term in office, over the transom. …
I had one little dry run, actually, before Grand Canyon, out at Otay in California right on the border. Several months before; gorgeous area, right on the border, lot of interesting issues;…. And very friendly environment in southern California, everybody, no opposition to anything. The first time, after Escalante; I said to the press, I think I could recommend to the President that he make this a national monument. The reaction was so enthusiastic,; but you know what happened, the local congressman pre-empted me by persuading Congress to make a wilderness area. And I said ‘Fine, be my guest, be my guest’.
AND CONGRESS' ROLE:
I held out the legislative piece because that’s the other thing. Two things we learned in this process; one Ive already told you about, and that is the advance consultation; lets draw the venom. On the front end. The second one was this, lets let Congress do it. Now, that’s when I learned that time out that I told you about earlier (Otay), a couple of months earlier; there I had a very friendly environment. First time we were ready to get back into this monument problem. And the response was immediately, was a piece of legislation, making it a wilderness area. I said fine. So that’s the experience in which I, for the first time see it, that theres a great way to do this stuff—and thats to lay a marker down for the Congress and the perfect place where we did that was Las Cienegas outside of Tucson. That was later. I made the offer here (Grand Canyon) —it didn’t go anywhere cause they weren’t interested. They had one hearing and Jeff Flake, it was on the House side, and it was clear to me that there was no interest at all in doing any legislation. They were indifferent, all they wanted to do was complain. So, so it didn’t go anywhere. And it was not my intention to go to a member of Congress and say why don’t you legislate. Simply to make it known that if they wanted to, it would be an appropriate way to go.
J You didn’t see your role as preparing a bill and sending it over?
B Absolutely not. Absolutely not. We did a bunch of these this way, but where it really, really came to fruition was outside Tucson at Las Cienegas. Because I made the offer. I went out there and said ok, this is monument material. And the Tucson delegation came back and said no, no, we want to do this, and the locals said, we don’t want him doin it, it’ll be terrible. And the dynamic was perfect, and they drafted a bill, and I watched as the sort of holder of the President’s veto recommendation, sorta saying, well, this bill doesn’t look, Im not sure the President will sign this, so lets make these changes. And that dynamic really worked, and it was not present here (referring to GC-Parashant). They didn’t care.
J So you mean when Stump introduced his bill, it was, I think you called it a sham.
B Yeah. Yeah, we didn’t have any discussions at all.
KANAB CANYON, AND KEEPING IT SIMPLE:
I didn’t look at it because it was a disconnected piece. And that would've basically complicated things a whole lot, so we looked at it but not in any significant way. We've gotta make this clean, understandable, simple, and if we sorta had multiple parts, this was, it was the first one in Clinton’s second term, and it really had to be appealing, clear, and show what the Grand Canyon was about. Look I love the place; been there all my life, doing things. But the reason this was selected is because it could carry, it could carry a monument easy. Nobody could object.
There weren’t any serious mineral interests; there were some; there were some old mining claims sitting up there, but they, there wasn’t any indication that anybody was very serious.
Too remote. The Arizona Cattlegrowers didn’t have any idea where the hell it was. Nobody in Arizona cared about Utah. So there really wasn’t much. The only discussions I remember was about the use of that river take-out (a private ranch, an inholding). Eventually saying, that was not something we were going to deal with in this bill; we re talking about, you know, we're writing a decree that does not affect private property; that's pretty much it. The off-road people were around as they always are, but again…..so remote. I think we were really helped by the fact that Arizona basically thought it was Utah, and Utah had no real reach into Arizona so it was kinda…
The Paiutes were involved. Bob Euler showed up on behalf of the Paiutes, he was an anthropologist, a very good one, and a very good guy incidentally; I knew much of his life and work. But he was involved in the discussions, and … wanted to see it. Finally he concluded there was no effect on anything; the Paiutes had their reservation, it was elsewhere. It was in their historic country, but they werent laying any claims.
J (Though) nothing ever rests in the Grand Canyon.
B That’s an important insight; nothing ever rests. And it doesn’t get any easier. You are following what the Navajos are proposing to do at this junction.
J Ah, it is heart-breaking.
J I cant imagine, well, you tell me, what do you hear, what do you think? I don’t know what…
B Im not been, you know, party to any of that or seen much of it but it’s a remarkable place out there, and the, the proposal just violates every kind of esthetic and environmental idea, you know, theyre probably entitled.. . It would probably be appropriate to have something out there; its not going be a wilderness, but you don’t need to get down into the Canyon, and
J Its Navajo land; its their choice.
B Thats right.
J What, so if you don’t mind my opening that up, since you , what, how do you work with the Navajo tribe, with individual members, what is the avenue?
B It’s a political organization, like every other one. There is no… The mistake that I think people made in the past was thinking Indian tribe, the Navajos are different, you can go see the chief and get something done. It aint that way. Its just like the society we live in. There is opposition on the reservation so theres gonna be, you know, a classic kind of struggle.
J Did you ever have to convince, I mean was there things you wanted to accomplish on the Navajo, or for the Navajos, or with the Navajos, or was that…
B We didn’t have … major issues out there. It was pretty much a done thing. The other thing about the Indian tribes is that they have their own resources and a lot of sophisticated help; theyve now moved out on a very independent course. Which of course theyre entitled.
J Our first interview was in 1972, when John McComb and I came and talked to you because you were working for that law firm and were representing the Havasupai. And we came to find out...
B Actually it wasn’t the Havasupais it was the Navajos. This is the Grand Canyon, Goldwater’s Grand Canyon bill. I was representing, my law firm was general counsel for the Navajo tribe, and my task in that bill was once again just to make sure the Navajos boundary issue was not affected one way or the other. And it was fairly easy to resolve; its still not clear exactly where the boundary is. It's on (emphasized) the river. Is it in the river, is it at the high, the middle, or where? But, in the context of the bill you guys were working on, it was appropriate for everybody to say we’re not fighting with the Navajos, and the Navajos are not using this to over-reach. So there you are.
J And of course, that’s an issue with this confluence proposal because…
B Of course, of course.
J There are people who claim its Park land...
J Which I don’t believe because …
B I don’t think it is either.
J I think its Navajo land down to the river anyway.
B Yeah, yeah.
J But how, the only way to settle that is to go to court; nobody else is going to do it; isn’t that fair?
B I think that’s right, yeah.
The Conservation Lands Foundation … was put together as a support group for these BLM conservation units. We re starting to power that up, doing some serious fund-raising now, and we've organized support groups around the West for some of these. So you know we're pretty deeply into that. So It is advocacy. We say this organization, headquartered in Durango Colorado, and we got representatives in most of the Western states now. And it's advocacy. The one kinda unique thing we re doing is organizing local support groups. To spread understanding. We have one in St. George; its been kind of…this is not a good example, its so remote from population centers, but the Agua Fria that we re all talking about; if you go up to Dewey and Humboldt and those places, you'll find retired people, they got an organization; they go out there and do volunteer work, stuff like that; and we support those groups, help to organize them on the theory that nuthin is ever permanent, everything is a continuing struggle, and the one important thing to understand is that the balance of political power in some ways has shifted from national to local; in the 60’s, environmental groups, man, Washington and the courts is where you did everything. Its not quite that easy now. Its time to get people more engaged out here. So we're really working that …right now.
GRAND CANYON TRUST:
J Well wasn’t that what you did with the Trust; you were involved in that.
B The Trust, I was an organizer of that; an early example of that; absolutely. Absolutely..and its been you know a really helpful presence, they haven’t called everything right all the time, but man, they’ve been a really useful player.
They succeeded for two reasons. One is the charisma of the Canyon. It's kinda like the Yellowstone; Greater Yellowstone Trust. Why is it so powerful? Because it's Yellowstone. And secondly, there were some heavy-weight fund-raisers among the original organzers who, you know, we didn’t have to scratch around for 4-5 years; we had a budget from day one to hire people; a guy named Jim Trees, a stockbroker from New York who was passionate about the Canyon, so there was money. And we made the great decision of hiring Ed Norton to run it, and he was, and still is, a really talented and aggressive fund-raiser… I’ll tell you how I think it came about. Came about on a river trip in which Harriet Burgess, and Jim Trees—I think I was on the river trip, but Im not certain; its been so long ago-- but we immediately got to talking about why couldn’t we sorta have a voluntary fee on passengers on boat trips in Grand Canyon as a way of organizing and funding some attention; I forget what the issues were at that time,-- as usual, many of them.
And the idea was we were going to, talking like we were going to hand out leaflets at Diamond Creek at the end of the trip, stuff like that. We pretty much abandoned that, but by the time we got to talking about a voluntary head tax and how we were going to collect it, we really got hooked on the idea of forming the organization. And I think Martin Litton was very close to being in on that, but it was really Harriet Burgess, Jim Trees, myself; you can look at the organization papers.
ANOTHER GRAND CANYON ISSUE-- TRANSPORT:
I've done a lot of work with Arnberger, working on particularly the transportation plan on the south rim, which it hasn’t worked as well as it should, cause Congress did everything it could to torpedo it. Very strong about that. And we worked very carefully. And we were actually quite close.
We had this problem. We had great transportation plans for Grand Canyon, and a really magnificent one for Yosemite. We had one for Zion. Which went forward. But they killed Grand Canyon and Yosemite. And I really, Im not sure who ‘they’ was, but there was massive resistance from all the, the Republicans somehow thought that keeping cars out of parks was kind of a libertarian issue that transcended environmental management. That it was just intrinsically a bad idea. They were absolutely successful in the appropriations process in killing these. And there was no room for any kind of discussion because it was an ideological issue. Which absolutely baffled me. …You can see at Grand Canyon; the way they built some of that stuff; it was all going to come together, all they needed was the transportation link out to Tusayan.
You know what I really enjoyed doing in that little window after I left the secretaryship was hiking down off the north rim, meeting a river party, and spending a couple of days on the river, and then hiking out. We did it a couple of times; we'd go down Nankoweap, and hook up with an oar party, and then go down to Hermit or Bright Angel, one of those, and walk out. And it was a perfect … transition. Theres a little bit of luxury. You know, river trips really are luxury. You come in off the back country; its like walking into a Hilton Hotel. Just show up. And we did some of those. Im not sure Im ready… But I would like to, you know, at least try it before I give up.