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Obama Administration Decides to Exclude Arizona from Further National Monument Designations

14 January 2017  
It's the final week of President Obama's term, and most Arizona elected officials breath sigh of relief as no new national monument designations expected before the transfer to President Trump.

Congressman Raul Grijalva pushed for a National Monument designation of land around the Grand Canyon, introducing H.R. 3882 Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act in November, 2015. It didn’t take long before it met with fierce opposition from Arizona Republican elected officials. The law failed to pass Congress, but Grijalva held out hope that President Obama would designate it as a monument by executive order.

Areas with diagonal lines outlined in red indicate the proposed National Monument area.

In June, 2016, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment from Representative Gosar blocking the monument designation adjoining the Grand Canyon. Stating that Arizona already has 18 national monuments, more than any other state, and that only 18 percent of the remaining land in Arizona is privately held, the Gosar-Stewart amendment would prohibit the designation of any monument in Yavapai. Coconino, Maricopa or Mohave counties. Gosar also stated the designation would make Arizona more vulnerable to wildfires.

In return, Grijalva offered an amendment that would have removed Gosar’s provision in July, 2016, but Gosar defeated that effort.

Governor Doug Ducey sent a letter to President Obama asking that the President respect the wishes of the state leadership and the United States Congress.

“If designated by the President in his waning hours, Arizona will take every step necessary - legally and legislatively - to stop it. My hope is that the president respects our wishes,” Ducey wrote.

Flake and McCain both spoke of their opposition on several occasions:

Flake, McCain Encouraged Arizona Not Included Among New Monument Designations

PHOENIX – U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) today released the following statement regarding reports that the president’s latest round of national monument designations does not include a proposed 1.7 million acre monument in Arizona:

“President Obama seems to have heard the message that Arizonans are not on board with plans for Washington to lock-up another 1.7 million acres in our state. As frustrating as it is to see federal land grabs in Utah and Nevada today, we are encouraged that the administration does not appear to be moving toward another national monument designation in Arizona at this time.”

Background:

  • On Dec. 5, Flake and McCain sent a letter to President Barack Obama following encouraging reports that he may abandon plans to abandon declaring a new national monument in Arizona. Flake and McCain’s signed letter can be viewed here.
  • On Dec. 5, Flake and McCain also sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today asking about the department’s position on designation a new monument in Arizona. The signed letter can be viewed here.
  • On October 3, Flake and McCain sent a letter to President Obama asking him to refrain from designating any additional national monuments in Arizona without first engaging with affected stakeholders, including local governments and state agencies. Flake and McCain’s signed letter can be viewed here.
  • On September 22, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Flake advocated for stakeholder input on new national monument designations in Arizona. More information can be foundhere.
  • On Nov. 6, 2015, Flake and McCain sent a letter urging the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to increase the pace of forest thinning efforts in order to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve forest health. Flake and McCain’s signed letter can be viewedhere.Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey simultaneously sent an identical letter to the USFS. Ducey’s signed letter can be viewedhere.

Now, the Obama administration has indicated that it will not designate the 1.7 million acres as a national monument, prompting approval at the Arizona capitol.

Rural Freshmen Republicans Applaud Decision to Exclude Arizona from Further National Monument Designations

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Representatives David Cook (R-8), Drew John (R-14), Becky Nutt (R-14), Kevin Payne (R-21), and Todd Clodfelter (R-10) today applauded the Obama Administration's recent decision to exclude Arizona from any further National Monument designations.

“It's not often that we can agree with any decision made by the Obama Administration, but rural Arizona is certainly breathing a sigh of relief after dodging a burdensome National Monument designation,” said Representatives Cook, John, Nutt, Payne, and Clodfelter. “To designate monuments, wilderness, or other parks which cover massive amounts of Arizona land does nothing but handcuff rural Arizona and the entire state from future development.”

While Arizona avoided further federal land intervention, Utah and Nevada weren’t as fortunate. The Obama Administration designated 1.35 million acres in Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument and 300,000 acres in Nevada as the Gold Butte National Monument, angering many local ranchers and other stakeholders.

Not everyone is pleased about the Obama administration’s decision, however. In a lengthy statement released by Grijalva, he explained,

Grijalva Expresses “Profound Disappointment” With Administration Choice Not to Protect Grand Canyon Through National Monument

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva today expressed his “profound disappointment” in the Obama administration’s decision not to protect the Grand Canyon area by establishing Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. The effort to create the monument – strongly backed by Native American tribes across the region– is supported by 82 percent of voters nationally and 80 percent of voters in Arizona, a rare instance of an environmental initiative transcending political philosophy and party identification.

A full explanation of Grijalva’s proposal and how it would have protected the Grand Canyon area is available at http://bit.ly/2hgV2Ao on the Committee’s website.

Grijalva has championed the monument for years, introducing a bill to create it on Nov. 3, 2015, and speaking frequently on its behalf. Backers delivered petitions with more than 550,000 signatures in July 2016 to President Obama urging him to designate the monument – a figure that continued to climb after the initial delivery.

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 28 that conservationists are “disappointed” at Obama’s apparent refusal to establish the monument through his authority under the Antiquities Act, which he has used more than any other president besides Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Post quoted Grijalva predicting a battle over the future of the law, which congressional Republicans intend to weaken despite a lack of public support for their effort.

The widespread public demand to establish the monument built on the 2012 announcement by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims on more than 1 million acres of public land to the north and south of the Grand Canyon. Uranium exposure continues to harm Arizona residents, including Tribal communities. In order to prevent a future hostile administration from removing those protections, and to protect some of Arizona’s most sacred Native American sites and ecologically sensitive areas, Rep. Grijalva’s proposal – crafted in consultation with tribal leaders from around the region – would have made the moratorium permanent within the new monument’s boundaries.

“I can only express my profound disappointment,” Grijalva said. “The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most iconic and popular natural places, not just for its beauty but for its importance to tribal culture and history. Instead of building on former Secretary Salazar’s work, the Interior and Agriculture departments are apparently willing to leave the future of the Grand Canyon and the health of Arizona tribes up to Donald Trump. I am not.”

Grijalva is reintroducing the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act today and is already mobilizing monument supporters for a strong push in the 115th Congress. The bill, which closely mirrors the previous version, would confer national monument status on two parcels of federal land, one north and one south of Grand Canyon National Park. A map of the areas proposed for protection is available here.

“The need to protect the Grand Canyon is bigger than who’s president or who sits in Congress,” Grijalva said. “The American people demand that this important place be preserved. People from all walks of life have been fighting this fight for a long time, and we’re going to keep working until we get it done.”

“We are disappointed that the Grand Canyon was not included in the designation by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. “We were hopeful to have both designations, but we are thankful for the Bears Ears designation. The Grand Canyon is an international monument that is visited by millions of people each year. The next administration should seriously consider designating the Grand Canyon under the Antiquities Act as a national monument to protect the canyon from mining and abuse in the name of economic development. This landscape should not be destroyed but saved for future generations to admire the beauty of the southwest. We need to make sure that it is protected as a national monument.”

“We are disappointed to hear the news that the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument designation was not granted,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez. “For the Navajo Nation, we are still surviving the debilitating effects of uranium extraction on our tribal lands and vast sections of our nation are contaminated from more than five hundred abandoned uranium mines that were never properly cleaned by the government and the private mining industry. As an example, the recent one-billion-dollar Tronox settlement will only provide enough funds to clean fifty abandoned uranium mines. We cannot continue to suffer the consequences of uranium contaminating our water sources and land while mining companies profit off the lives of Navajo people.”

"We are very disappointed to hear that the Obama administration has failed to protect the crown jewel of the United States – the Grand Canyon,” said Havasupai Councilwoman Carletta Tilousi. “The Havasupai people are on the verge of human extinction due to massive uranium development on the rims of the Grand Canyon. As the original people of this country, we are the most targeted by international mining companies who come into our territories and contaminate our waters and homes. We are very disappointed in the Obama administration for failing to protect the Grand Canyon.”

“On behalf of all Hopi’sinom (the Hopi People) I must express my profound disappointment in President Obama’s failure to designate the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument today,” said Hopi Tribal Council Chairman Herman Honanie. “It must be stated for the record that this failure to act demonstrates a lack of simple, fundamental respect and reverence of this significant cultural and geographical landmark. To all Hopi People, the Grand Canyon is considered a place of origin, a spiritual home and sanctuary of cultural tradition. Within the Grand Canyon, Hopi ancestors left behind tangible proof of their existence; monument designation or not, our footprints will remain. Whether it is the uranium mining industry or the proposed Navajo Escalade Project, the Hopi People remain committed to opposing all harmful commercial interests dedicated toward the exploitation of the Grand Canyon.”

“We are obviously disappointed in the President’s decision to not designate the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument,” said Ethan Aumack, conservation director for the Grand Canyon Trust. “Without a monument, we should expect to see the twenty-year moratorium on uranium mining around Grand Canyon reversed by the Trump administration, paving the way for large-scale mining in critical Grand Canyon watersheds to commence. We will fight this reversal and expansion of mining activities with everything we’ve got.”

“While the lands beyond the rim of the Grand Canyon are no less spectacular, culturally important, or economically vital than before, they do now face an even greater risk,” said Sandy Bahr, Director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We remain dedicated to working with area Tribes and communities to ensure these lands are protected for future generations.”

“Few places are more deserving of protection than the landscape surrounding the Grand Canyon,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Failing to permanently protect the surrounding watershed of the Grand Canyon from toxic uranium mining leaves a gap in the conservation legacy of the President. Until this mining threat is permanently squashed, the Grand Canyon could end up much less grand.”

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Lynne LaMaster