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Babbitt urges new, expanded monuments

He proposes protecting lands in Arizona, Idaho

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PHOENIX — Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on Friday officially recommended creation of a new national monument in northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon and the expansion of another in Idaho.

Babbitt's recommendation to President Clinton would turn 293,000 acres containing the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs and the Paria River Canyon into the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

This initial proposal does not include any land in Utah — the northern border of the possible new monument would mainly be the Arizona-Utah state line, according to a map of the recommendation.

The recommendation also calls for expanding the Craters of the Moon National Monument, about 160 miles east of Boise, by 661,000 acres of federal land. The monument is 54,440 acres now.

"Both of these recommendations cover unique, spectacular landscapes," Babbitt said. "So far, they have been untouched by development or sprawl, but the West is expanding rapidly, and this is the time to act. If we protect these wonderful open spaces now, future generations will be able to marvel at them just as we do."

Babbitt's proposal calls for use of the 1906 Antiquities Act which authorizes the president to unilaterally create national monuments on federal land but which has also been a source of controversy across the West.

Critics of Clinton's recent spate of monument declarations say the Antiquities Act was designed to protect specific rare, important geological, historical or natural objects or features, rather than broad-ranging masses of land. Ranchers have expressed concerns the designations will limit their ability to use the land.

Local and state officials in Arizona as well as many Western congressmen also insist the federal government is locking up far too much land.

News of the recommendation that Idaho's Craters of the Moon National Monument be expanded to include most of the Great Rift area to the south prompted criticism and praise.

"The resources and the landscape are spectacular and unique to Idaho," said Lahsha Johnston of the Wildness Society. "It's a great win for Idaho. We would like to see it happen very soon. We would like to see him (Clinton) act on this by Labor Day. Babbitt did his homework."

But some are concerned that the plan is too vague.

"The devil is in the details," Sara Braasch, of the Idaho Cattle Association, said. "We've opposed designation of this national monument. Time will tell. The most important thing is what we haven't seen."

The plan calls for water rights, private property, grazing livestock, hunting and other outdoor activities to "generally not be affected."

In Arizona this year, Clinton has proclaimed as monument designations the million-acre Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument on the Shivwitz plateau, the 72,500-acre Agua Fria National Monument near Phoenix and the nearly 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest

of Tucson.

A spokeswoman for Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, who has protested several of the designations, said the governor supports the preservation of open space but does not like the unilateral declarations.

"The goal is laudable, but the way that it gets done gives us some problems," said Hull spokeswoman Francie Noyes.

She said monument designations often cut off Arizona's options for using state trust lands, which are used to produce money for the state's schools and are often near federal lands.

"Before this (proposed) declaration, there was a total 123,000 acres of state trust land that had to all intents and purposes been swallowed up for federal uses, and we have never been compensated," Noyes said.

Interior Department spokesman John Wright said Babbitt is not determined to use the Antiquities Act and would prefer the new monument and expansion be done through legislation.

He added that Babbitt had toured both areas before making his recommendation and found that government officials and citizens there supported the proposals.

In the case of the Vermilion Cliffs monument, "the general consensus of it was that the area was priceless and pristine and needed additional protection," Wright said.

Wright said there was no timetable set for Clinton to act on the recommendations.