With this panoramic canyon as a backdrop, President Clinton today vigorously defended his decision to broaden federal protections for more than a million acres in the West as necessary to preserve scenic areas for generations to come.
After touring the Grand Canyon's northern rim by helicopter, the president signed documents creating two new national monuments in Arizona and one in California, and expanding an existing monument in California. Then, speaking to a few hundred supporters at Hopi Point on the south rim, he repeatedly invoked the name of Theodore Roosevelt, the president who gave federal protection to the Grand Canyon on this date in 1908.
He noted that Roosevelt used the federal Antiquities Act to protect the canyon, the same law that several other presidents have invoked and the one Clinton used today to create the new monuments.
"This is not about locking lands up; it is about freeing them from the pressures of development and the threat of sprawl, for all Americans, for all time," said Clinton, who wore a leather jacket in the clear but chilly and breezy late morning. Addressing a frequent criticism, Clinton said local authorities and residents will have a voice in the uses of the lands, which generally will allow for recreation such as hiking and fishing but will limit amenities such as roads.
"In managing the new monuments," he said, "we will continue to work closely with the local communities to ensure that their views are heard and their interests are respected."
Several Arizona Republicans, including Gov. Jane Hull, declined to join Clinton today, complaining that the federal government uses too heavy a hand in western states in controlling the rights to mining, grazing, road-building and water use. Today's ceremonies, and the criticisms by those who did not attend, are but the latest example of long-running tensions regarding the extent to which this part of the country should be protected and controlled by politicians who see it only on occasional vacations.
In many ways, today's debate centers more on process and pride than on any likelihood that the newly declared monuments would fall prey to development. Nearly all the land in question is already federally owned, and the White House said existing mining and water rights "will be maintained." But no new mining claims will be allowed, and "the current prohibition on off-road vehicles will be made permanent" at the two new Arizona monuments, according to the White House.
Hull and other Arizona Republicans have been careful to criticize Clinton's procedures without attacking the notion of preserving scenic lands.
"The governor is not opposed to protecting this land," said Hull's press secretary, Francie Noyes. "She's disappointed that the people of Arizona were completely bypassed in making this decision." She said Hull is not "trying to protect business interests" because few business enterprises are practical in the rugged and remote areas in question.
Speaking with reporters before his speech, Clinton said administration officials consulted closely with local citizens and officials before making his decision. "We've tried to be, and will always be, sensitive to the concerns and the legitimate interests of local people, but I think we've done a good job with this," he said.
He also pointed to a recent statewide poll that found most Arizona voters support federal protection of scenic or historic sites. Still marked by vast open and arid tracts, Arizona nonetheless has gained 1.3 million new residents in the past decade, creating pressures for new developments and sprawl. Only 17 percent of Arizona land is privately owned. The federal government owns 42 percent, the state owns 13 percent, and Indian reservations cover the remaining 28 percent.
Clinton's actions added 7,900 acres to the Pinnacles National Monument south of San Jose. He also created these three monuments:
* Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, more than a million acres on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon.
* Agua Fria National Monument, a 71,100-acre site 40 miles north of Phoenix. It includes rock pueblos that were inhabited centuries ago.
* California Coastal National Monument, which comprises thousands of islands, rocks and reefs along 840 miles of California coast.
Clinton was joined today by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, a former Arizona governor who long has championed expanding the zone of protection around the Grand Canyon. Speaking before the president, Babbitt said Clinton "has written a full, final chapter to the protection of this canyon."
President Clinton today declared three new national monuments and expanded a fourth.
1. Coastal National Monument
Thousands of small islands, reefs and rocks off the California Coast.
2. Pinnacles National Monument
To be expanded.
3. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
1,500 square miles of desert.
4. Agua Fria National Monument
71,000 acres filled with Indian ruins.
SOURCE: White House Council on Environmental Quality
CAPTION: President Clinton, with hiker Ann Weiler Walka, speaks at Grand Canyon, Ariz., after signing proclamations creating national monuments.