FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A proposal to designate a vast, sparsely populated area surrounding the Grand Canyon as a national monument is getting mixed reactions.
About 100 people gathered in Flagstaff to weigh in on the proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who hosted the meeting, has said she's hopeful President Barack Obama will designate the 1.7-million-acre area as a national monument before he leaves office.
The meeting Thursday was closed to the media, and Kirkpatrick declined through spokesman D.B. Mitchell to provide immediate comment. He cited the office's policy of excluding reporters from meetings for stakeholders. Some people who showed up at the meeting said they were invited, while others said they heard about it indirectly.
According to them, Kirkpatrick heard from environmental groups that want to protect the region's water, large-diameter trees and wildlife corridors. She also heard from the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and sportsmen's groups that oppose the effort to sidestep Congress and questioned the expense of running a national monument.
Obama has used his authority under the Antiquities Act 16 times to create or expand national monuments, the White House said Thursday. The level of protection for the Grand Canyon region would depend on the language the president includes in any designation and what federal agency manages the monument.
Elsewhere, conservationists are looking to Obama to protect areas including the Dolores River in western Colorado, Utah's Cedar Mesa region and land surrounding Canyonlands National Park, and the Berryessa Snow Mountain region in northern California.
The proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument is a mix of towering cliffs and canyons, grasslands, forest and desert that is popular with hunters, ranchers, hikers and other recreationists. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service oversee much of the land in the proposal, including 1 million acres that is off limits to new mining claims.
The proposed monument would lie between two other national monuments north of the Grand Canyon — Grand Canyon-Parashant to the west and Vermillion Cliffs to the east. It also would include some national forest land south of the canyon.
Supporters of the monument designation say it would help preserve archaeological sites, seeps and springs, promote the voluntary retirement of grazing permits and ensure that a major wildlife corridor isn't harmed in the future.
"I feel that this is clearly a level of protection and a type of land management that we as Arizonans and as Americans want," said Alicyn Gitlin, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Sierra Club.
Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation, said any more oversight of the area could make it harder for people to access the area, to thin the forest and maintain wildlife water developments.
"There are locations that need to be taken care of better," he said after the meeting. "Almost all of those things fall under the responsibility of the existing management agencies. If anything, force them to do their job."