Three New Monuments for America

TUSAYAN, Arizona, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - One million acres of canyons and mesas north of the Grand Canyon. More than 71,000 acres of prehistoric ruins north of Phoenix, Arizona. Thousands of tiny islands along the California coast. Call them America’s millenium presents - three new national monuments created today by Presidential fiat.

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The spires of Pinnacles National Monument in California host a number of rare species (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
Ninety-two years to the day after President Theodore Roosevelt created a monument at Grand Canyon, paving the way for the creation of Grand Canyon National Park, President Bill Clinton signed proclamations creating three more monuments - the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and the Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona, and the California Coastal National Monument. The President also signed a proclamation expanding Pinnacles National Monument in California.

The newly protected areas are already federal land and, beginning today, will be managed with the overriding purpose of preserving their unique natural, scientific and historic features.

“This is not about locking lands up,” Clinton said. “it is about freeing them up - from the pressures of development and the threat of sprawl, for all Americans, for all time.”

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Both new Arizona monuments provide crucial habitat for the endangered Mojave desert tortoise (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)
The President toured the Arizona monument areas by helicopter, then, in a ceremony at the Grand Canyon, used his executive authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt, to create the new protected areas. The Act gives Presidents the authority to designate as national monuments any historic landmark, historic and prehistoric structure or other object of historic or scientific interest owned or controlled by the government.

The Act was passed by Congress in 1906 and first used by President Theodore Roosevelt to designate the Grand Canyon National Monument - the core of what later became Grand Canyon Park. In the years since, almost every President has protected natural and historic sites under the Act. Only Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush - all Republicans - did not make use of the Act.

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The Arizona portion of Lake Mead National Recreation Area will now be part of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
Today, more than 100 monuments in 24 states and the Virgin Islands protect some 70 million acres, about 10 percent of all federal lands.

In December 1998, Clinton ordered Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to compile a report on unique and fragile federal lands in need of protection. On December 14, 1999, Babbitt presented a list of recommendations, specifically promoting monument status for the sites selected today.

"Each of the sites already belongs to the American people, and no land purchases would be required," said Clinton in December. "But giving these lands national monument status would ensure they would be passed along to future generations, healthy and whole. Like Theodore Roosevelt, I believe there are certain places humankind simply cannot improve upon, places whose beauty and interest no photograph could capture, places you simply have to see for yourself. We must use this time of unparalleled prosperity to ensure people will always be able to see these places as we see them today."

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The Shivwits Plateau region north of the Grand Canyon holds craggy mountains and broad plains (Photo courtesy Northern Arizona University)
Arizona Governor Jane Hull and the state’s Republican Congress members oppose the designation of the new Arizona monuments. In a January 7 letter to Clinton, Hull and other Arizona lawmakers asked the president to, "forgo unilateral federal action ... and instead work with us as we involve the people of Arizona in a preservation effort that allows the public a voice in the process."

A statewide poll by the Behavior Research Center of Phoenix last month found that more than 76 percent supported the proposed monuments - both Democrats and Republicans.

"Its a joy to see President Clinton protecting canyons, mesas and Native American sites threatened by destruction from mining companies," said Sierra Club president Carl Pope today. "Because Americans see our wild lands so rapidly dwindling, people want action now to save what’s left."

Clinton’s action also found support in Congress. "America is defined as much by its diverse landscapes as it is by its melting pot of people and cultures," said U.S. Congressman from Minnesota Bruce Vento, a Democrat. "If the current Congress is to be populated by those so sorely lacking in a vision, incapable of recognizing the imperativeness of preserving and protecting that which we can, then it is incumbent upon the President to do so."

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

The largest new monument protects just over one million acres of deep canyons, mountains and buttes on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The area contains evidence of prehistoric peoples, relics of 19th century settlers, and diverse plant and animal life, including rare species such as the California condor and desert tortoise. The monument encompasses part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Booming growth from nearby Las Vegas, Nevada had threatened to encroach on these lands on the Shivwits Plateau. Pockets of valuable uranium raised the potential for enormous pit mines to scar the landscape. As a national monument, the Plateau will have better protection from these dangers. Current land uses, including grazing, hunting and fishing, will not be affected, and landowners will retain their current water rights. However, no new mining claims will be granted in the monument.

Agua Fria National Monument

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The Agua Fria River bisects the new Agua Fria National Monument (Photo courtesy BLM)
A 71,100 acre site 40 miles north of Phoenix, the newly created Agua Fria National Monument contains some of the most extensive prehistoric ruins in the Southwest, including spectacular petroglyphs, terraced agricultural areas, and rock pueblos once inhabited by communities of several thousand people.

"As the suburbs of Phoenix creep ever closer to this place, we have to protect these lands from development," said Clinton, announcing the designation of Agua Fria.

At least 450 prehistoric sites have been documented within the new monument. The Bureau of Land Management will oversee the monument, located on a semi arid grassland plateau bisected by the deep Agua Fria River canyon. Mountain lions, pronghorn antelope and common black hawks are all native to the area, as are several fish species. A ban on offroad vehicle use will help protect the fragile ecosystem and prehistoric artifacts.

California Coastal National Monument

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Rocky islands along all 840 miles of California coastline will now be protected (Photo courtesy California Native Plant Society)
Thousands of islands, rocks and reefs along the 840 mile California coast providing critical feeding and nesting grounds for seabirds, including the threatened brown pelican, and for marine mammals, including the threatened Steller sea lion. The California Coastal National Monument will protect these lands, which have been threatened by mining for minerals and for bird guano for fertilizer.

The monument will protect lands up to 12 miles offshore. An estimated 200,000 sea birds breed and feed on the islands, including the endangered brown pelican. Some of these birds once used nesting grounds on the California mainland, but were forced out by intense development.

Pinnacles National Monument

A 7,900 acre expansion of Pinnacles monument south of San Jose will help preserve the monument's unusual rock formations, its watershed, and important habitat for species including golden eagles, prairie falcons, and red tailed hawks. The new expansion will be transferred from the BLM to the National Park Service for management. Pinnacles was originally created in 1908, and has been expanded five times by U.S. presidents and once by Congress.

Hunting will not be permitted in the expansion area, though other land uses could continue.

"Its a legacy for the children of America for hundreds of years into the future," said Clinton. "That’s not a bad gift to give them."