A consortium of environmental groups is working to have land along the Arizona Strip near the Utah border declared a national monument. Their argument that the land is worthy of protection may be legitimate, but the nature of their request is beyond audacious, and the timing couldn't be worse.
A group that includes the Grand Canyons Wildlands Council and the Center for Biological Diversity has asked the Bureau of Land Management to commence the process of creating what would be called the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.
Such a move would be hauntingly similar to President Bill Clinton's abrupt creation in 1996 of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a move that continues to be a source of aggravation to those who believe the management of public lands should involve more than executive fiat.
Such power is granted under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president discretionary authority to create a protectorate for federal lands under the designation of a monument. Presidents have used that procedure to instigate the process that eventually led to creation of several installations, including the nearby Grand Canyon National Park.
But lingering irritation over the Clinton declaration provided at least some fuel to the decision this year by the Utah Legislature to challenge the federal government over ownership of most federal land in Utah. The legislation will likely generate a lawsuit that most experts say has little chance of success. But proponents see it nonetheless as a worthy quest if the end result is a frank and sober discussion over land management policies, most of which currently please no one.
Indeed, since the relationship between state officials and federal land managers is already strained, a presidential declaration like the one proposed would be rightly regarded as punitive and heavy-handed. Early reaction among Utah's congressional delegation has been negative, and bipartisan.
Sen. Orrin Hatch called the idea "an absolute outrage to every single Utahn." Rep. Jim Matheson pointed out the very word "monument" tends to "set off alarms."
Alarming, because the proposal could be used to engineer a bypass of any mechanism that would allow for considered input from those closest to the land in question, including ranching, mining and lumber interests as well as local elected officials.
It is understandable that environmental groups have bestowed their attention on the strikingly rugged and beautiful lands of the Arizona Strip. Even so, the interests of those parties who have a stake in that land being managed for other use should not be blatantly ignored, even if federal law allows it.
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