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Subcommittee gives quick, bipartisan nod to Arches expansion

A subcommittee gave quick and bipartisan approval Tuesday to a proposed expansion of Arches National Park.

Ironically, that came while the full House bitterly debated but ultimately passed a bill to restrict the power of presidents to create national monuments because of controversy over another southern Utah site: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.But the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands gave quick voice-vote approval to a bill by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, to expand Arches by 3,140 acres.

That would add the Lost Springs Canyon area to the park - which Cannon says is part of its natural ecosystem but was excluded originally because of boundaries drawn in straight lines.

It passed after praise by Committee Chairman Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and its ranking Democrat, Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa.

Cannon said his proposal has become relatively noncontroversial because he tried to work with affected groups to resolve concerns. He said Grand Staircase-Escalante remains controversial because the Clinton administration did not conduct such negotiations before creating it in a surprise announcement.

The Arches expansion is still opposed by some of the more zealous environmental groups - such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Wilderness Society - which would rather protect the land as part of a larger wilderness area.

They say including it in the park could damage it by attracting more people to fragile areas.

However, more moderate environmental groups such as the Grand Canyon Trust and the National Parks and Conservation Association support the park expansion as helping to include the park's natural ecosystem within its boundaries.

The bill now goes to the full House Resources Committee.