Facebook Twitter

Leavitt, Babbitt link arms on monument

SHARE Leavitt, Babbitt link arms on monument

When it comes to the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Gov. Mike Leavitt and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt have had their differences.

But both men took center stage Tuesday at a Cedar City science symposium related to the new monument, joined arms and sang "Kumbaya." Metaphorically speaking, of course.With about 250 geologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, biologists and assorted other scientists looking on, both men offered a shared vision of a new era of federal land management emerging from state and federal planning centered on the monument - a land Leavitt called "the most spectacular land God created."

"I made a policy decision that as much as I did not like the way it happened, we would create a model of environmental management to protect the land," Leavitt said. "People want to protect this land . . . the land we love, the land that is a big part of our lives."

Babbitt, on the other hand, pledged to create a management strategy that emphasizes the human landscape found in southern Utah communities affected by the creation of the 1.7 million-acre monument last year.

"It is one of the richest historic traditions to ever emerge in the United States," Babbitt said, adding that visitors' experiences in the monument "ought to begin with a deeper appreciation of the communities and values" found there.

Babbitt's comments certainly rang a conciliatory tone for residents of Kane and Garfield counties, where Babbitt is still soundly vilified. Leavitt's comments, too, were seen as a political olive branch to preservation-oriented scientists.

Having Babbitt espouse the importance of human resources and Leavitt argue for preservation of the land may sound like an odd juxtaposition. But Leavitt says he has always pushed for environmental protection for the region. And Babbitt says he has always emphasized the importance of local communities.

Their differences were - and to some extent still are - rooted in the politics behind the national monument designation. "Our differences have never impeded our ability to work together," Babbitt insisted, pointing to the joint planning process as evidence of that cooperation.

Since President Bill Clinton created the monument by executive order in September 1996, Leavitt has taken the position that the monument is irreversible. Given that, the state would bring to the table personnel and money in an unprecedented state-federal planning process.

The sharing of scientific research at the Cedar City symposium is a direct result of that joint planning process. "Good public policy always comes from good science," Leavitt said.

Babbitt called the meeting the genesis of federal policy where land management decisions are rooted in sound interdisciplinary science, where management decisions are made with interagency cooperation and where land managers and scientists work in partnership toward a "very powerful vision of the future that is rooted in knowledge and understanding of the landscape."

However, the appearance of state-federal solidarity does not mask the fact there are still fundamental differences between the two sides. Among them are the disposition of 200,000 acres of Utah school trust lands within the monument, and guarantees that existing development rights will be protected.

Given Leavitt's comments that the lands within the monument are the most spectacular that God created, is he now saying he likes the idea of national monument designation as a means of protection?

He won't go that far. Leavitt points to his own environmental protection plan for the region, called Canyons of the Escalante National Ecoregion, which was offered before Clinton's proclamation as evidence of his sincerity to protect the land.

"I like the idea of preserving the land . . . and maybe a monument is the right tool to protect it, " Leavitt told the Deseret News. "But I do not agree with the process to create the monument, which was done in an atmosphere of deception."

That deception has created a hostile atmosphere in southern Utah, particularly in Kane and Garfield counties. In an interview with the Deseret News, Babbitt said he believes the only way to restore faith with the citizens there is for the federal government to live up to the promises made when the monument was created.

One of those promises was to exchange the school trust lands, something Babbitt said is progressing. Another is to protect existing development rights in the region, which has been done.

Yet another promise was to involve the local communities in the monument planning.

"We have to get out on the landscape and find as much common ground (with local residents) as we possible can," Babbitt acknowledged, emphasizing that communities must be given the tools to develop infrastructure "in the direction, pace and manner they choose."

Rather than a traditional national park management strategy where park amenities are located in the middle of the park and where visitors are shuffled from one scenic overlook to another, Babbitt envisions a strategy where the monument infrastructure is located in the local communities.

That attitude fits hand-in-glove with Leavitt's own determination to preserve the human elements of the region. "The human drama that has played, and continues to play here, will provide opportunities to share new experiences and answer the questions of who, what and why this heritage is so interesting," he said.

At least it is something on which they can agree.