THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR BRUCE BABBITT AND CHAIR OF COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY GEORGE FRAMPTON
The Briefing Room
10:21 A.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: As you know, the President will have a statement at 11:30 a.m. today. Here to brief you on the particulars of that statement are George Frampton, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; and Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior. This briefing is on the record and on camera, but it is embargoed until noon. Thank you.
MR. FRAMPTON: Good morning, I'm George Frampton. The President will have two announcements this morning regarding our ongoing efforts to protect critical lands across this country. And I think both announcements are very much in the spirit of a series of initiatives that the administration has taken in the conservation field, from the northwest forest plan, California desert, acquisition of Headwaters Forest, protection of Yellowstone, the recent agreement to purchase the Baca Ranch in New Mexico, and the restoration of the Everglades ecosystem.
The first announcement the President will have is that we are forwarding today to Congress a list of 18 places that we propose to protect through acquisition with the funding that was secured a few weeks ago by the President in the recent budget negotiations. The administration secured a total of $652 million this year for our Lands Legacy program, which is a 42 percent increase over last year. A substantial portion of those funds are already allocated to particular projects in places like the California desert, Baca Ranch and Everglades.
But we were able to get an additional $35 million that is not yet allocated, so these are the administration's proposals for concurrence by the appropriations committees for the specific projects for the use of that money. And some of those -- there are 18 in all: 17 acquisitions and one acquisition of grazing rights north of Yellowstone National Park.
Some of the projects include Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, which was the first wildlife refuge created by Teddy Roosevelt; steps toward the acquisition of the birth home and burial place of Martin Luther King in Atlanta; Hawaii; civil war battlefields; acreage within the mountains to Sound Greenway in Washington State, linking the Cascades to Puget Sound; and other projects.
Second, the President will announce that he has received from Secretary Babbitt, in response to a request that he made roughly a year ago to the Secretary, recommendations for the designation of three new national monuments, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, and for the expansion of a fourth national monument. And the President will also say that he will study the recommendations and hopes to reach a decision on them early in the year.
The four proposed, recommended monuments which the Secretary will describe in more detail in a minute are as follows: The largest one is a million-acre monument, part of the BLM land and national recreation land north of the Grand Canyon, going right down to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The second, also in Arizona, is an area of about 70,000 acres north of Phoenix, which is very rich in archeological sites, petroglyphs and other important archeological objects.
The other two are in California. First, the designation of a new national monument to protect all of the coastal islands off the coast of California, up and down the coast, that are owned by the federal government; and fourth is the expansion of an existing national monument, Pinnacles National Monument, about 65 miles south of San Jose, about due east of Monterey, which was initially created by Teddy Roosevelt, I believe, in 1908, and has been expanded several times since then.
And Secretary Babbitt is going to describe the four recommendations in somewhat more detail, and then we'll be available to take questions. Thank you.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Good morning. I think it's by now well-known that there is an interactive process going on with respect to the protection of public lands in many areas of the West. And this process has been characterized by many meetings and field trips with the residents of local communities and local officials who are interest in expanding the protection of public lands.
In a number of cases, the Congress has been directly involved in this process. For example, in the state of Oregon, there are two sites now under intense public discussion in a collaborative process with the entire Oregon delegation, Republicans and Democrats, and with the active involvement of Governor Kitzhaber. To some degree, that process is now going on in Colorado as well, where I will travel at the end of this week to the San Luis Valley, along with Senator Allard, Congressman McInnis and the Attorney General and other members of the Colorado leadership.
It's in that context that I have recommended, and today recommend to the President that he use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate two sites in Arizona and two in California.
Now, I guess, inevitably, I start by telling you about the two sites in Arizona. The are, of course, well-known to me as someone who grew up in Arizona. They have the enthusiastic support of a distinguished former governor of Arizona -- (laughter) -- and, of course, I have had a long and great relationship with Grand Canyon National Park. The first one, as George described, about 1 million acres, is in, in a very real sense, a part of Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon was established as a national monument by Teddy Roosevelt back in 1908. But it was just a central core of the canyon. And since then, successor Presidents have used their power to -- under the Antiquities Act to expand that canyon, often with some initial controversy, but always richly vindicated in history. I know that, because member of my own family, who have been out there for generations, were often among the opponents of presidential use of the Antiquities Act, only, inevitably, years later to do a little revisionist history and to claim leadership in originating those ideas.
Okay, enough stories. The bottom line is that the Grand Canyon is still not fully protected. Congress took a crack at it back in the 1970s, and looked at some of this area, and wound up undecided, and asked the Secretary of the Interior to do a study. That study, of course, gathered the dust that most studies do in my department, until it was rediscovered by a public lands archaeologist about a year ago.
The addition is characterized by the fact that it's within the drainage of the Grand Canyon. This is a remote area on the north rim. It covers the drainage of Andrus Canyon, Parashant Canyon, and Cottonwood Wash. It's in fact where the Grand Canyon begins on the north side. It's where the rain and the snow, running off the land, move through the side canyons of the Colorado tributaries and then join the Colorado River.
Now, the second one in Arizona is a remarkable site that has escaped the attention of the public for a long time. As you drive north from metropolitan Phoenix, you will see the inevitable sprawl that kind of metastasizes across the landscape. And you will be in subdivisions and real estate developments all the way, about an hour out of Phoenix -- 60, 70 miles north -- where suddenly the interstate ramps up about 1,000 feet. And miraculously, you are then in a pristine, very rugged landscape of mesas and ramparts and deep canyons, which harbor an entire archaeological civilization that built a fortified community less than 1,000 years ago. There are half a dozen huge pueblos, several hundred rooms. There are fortifications along the ramparts, lookout towers.
It's been rediscovered because archaeologists are now beginning to undertand that you really understand ancient civilizations not by just digging artifacts out of a grave or a ruin, but by understanding how communities interacted across landscapes.
Incidentally, this will provide a remarkable de facto growth boundary to the city of Phoenix. And I believe this is going to have the enthusiastic support of the mayor and many of the leaders who are struggling with the kinds of sprawl issues that the Vice President has discussed so frequently and so persuasively.
Okay, I'll ramp out on California. The first one is the California islands. Now, lest you think that this is an archeapeligo the size of Indonesia, let me just say that these are small, uninhabited islands. In fact, many people think of them as rocks. (Laughter.) I think of them as a part of our natural heritage.
You can see them from the shoreline at Monterey, or if you go out to the Presidio in San Francisco; those are those rocks where all the vast flocks of birds are coming in where the pelicans are multing at breeding time -- that kind of thing. They really are a treasure, and the time is now at hand to make certain that they are protected.
There are several thousand of them. They will continue to be administered under my recommendation, jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and the California Department of Game and Fish.
The last one, as George said, is Pinnacles National Monument. Now, I dare say that none of you hardworking members of the press have ever been there. In fact, I arrived there a month ago to learn that no Secretary of the Interior in history had been seen within a day's drive of this place, and that the regional director of the National Park Service, based in San Francisco, had never even been there. (Laughter.) But it is a wonderful place.
It is an island mountain extending out of the lower lands, kind of a central valley where it kind of moves up into the coastal range. It's being increasingly discovered by the people in the South Bay and San Jose who use it as rock climbing and as a refuge from all the sprawl. If you stand in that area, you can now look out across the subdivisions, which are beginning to encroach, which is the explanation for my recommendation to the President that we create a larger protected area.
I'd be happy to answer any questions.
Q Secretary Babbitt, the area in California, these uninhabited islands, rocks, however you want to describe them, what is the current threat against those, and does this include any area of seabed that is currently being used for oil exploration?
SECRETARY BABBITT: To answer your second question, my recommendation does not extend to the seabed, and there's a good reason for that. The seabed out to 12 miles is owned and administered by the state of California, and the Antiquities Act may or may not cover the seabed in the abstract. But my recommendation is purely the rocks, purely the land above mean high tide.
What's the threat? Well, there are all kinds of possibilities. The ingenuity that people use for mineral location in mining is almost beyond belief. I was reading today about a mineral location that has been made for the purpose of mining ingredients for kitty litter. There's a mineral location in Arizona, where the San Francisco Peaks are being loaded into dump trucks for grit for the washing and manufacture of stonewashed jeans. And there has been a variety of those kinds of proposals from people thinking that these rocks might look better ground up and merchandised.
The nesting grounds of the birds are particularly important. There has been some guano activity in the ancient past on some of these islands -- no longer as valuable as it was 100 years ago. But those are the kinds of things that need to be protected.
Q Mr. Secretary, could you explain the President's executive authority, what he can do? Is this basically the federal equivalent of eminent domain, that he can just take these over?
SECRETARY BABBITT: It is the exact antithetical opposite of eminent domain, because I would hasten to say that these are public lands. We're not talking, here, about privately owned lands, and you should immediately disregard all of these allegations that somehow there is privately owned property involved in this. There isn't. These lands are owned by the people of the United States.
Now, the Antiquities Act of 1906 is a statute in which the Congress explicitly gave the President the power to designate areas of historic and cultural and scientific interest, and in so doing to remove them from the application of statutes like the Mining Law of 1872. And I might add that there is an extraordinary record of presidential leadership, over the last nearly 100 years, in using this act. Many, if not most, of our greatest national parks began as withdrawals by the President under the Antiquities Act.
And there are some surprising facts. For example, Herbert Hoover -- not often remembered as one of the most dynamic users of executive authority -- set aside 2 million acres under the Antiquities Act, including the beginnings of Death Valley and a whole variety of archaeological monuments. The inimitable Theodore Roosevelt, of course, set aside 1.5 million acres. And every President of the 20th century -- only three exceptions -- has used this act to establish national monuments. Not a single one of them has ever been revoked, either by a subsequent President or by the Congress. Not one. So that's sort of the background, I think, in which I would frame my recommendations.
Q Could you be a bit more explicit about what activities are precluded by this designation? You said -- is mining completely precluded by the designation, and are there any other activities? Grazing can continue?
SECRETARY BABBITT: The President retains the discretion under the act to specify in the proclamation of withdrawal, which laws will or will not be applicable and which uses will or will not be permitted.
Now, I think the Grand Staircase withdrawal illustrates some of these issues. First of all, there is, I think, without exception, always been a withdrawal of the mining law of 1872. Without exception, that would certainly be my recommendation to the President here. Mining is somewhat incompatible with protecting the scenic vistas of the Grand Canyon. It's not very healthy for archaeological sites to have mining. That's kind of a given.
My recommendation to the President on these would be that, as we did at the Escalante Monument, that grazing be continued, subject to good management practices and protecting the biodiversity of the landscape. Grazing, properly administered, is not an incompatible use.
Timber cutting -- commercial timber cutting would be, I would recommend be prohibited, as it was in the Grand Staircase Escalante. I think there actually are a few trees in the Grand Staircase Escalante, but there are quite a few of them at Pinnacles and at Grand Canyon. But that use would be withdrawn.
The use of off-road vehicles is an increasingly problemmatic issue on public lands, and we handled that at the Grand Staircase Escalante by a management plan which says vehicles will be restricted to designated roads. It's not like a wilderness area where you say no vehicles, but the idea would be to manage them in a very proper and restrictive way. That would be my recommendation with respect to these monuments as well.
Q In an other recent declaration, you had quite a bit of rumbling from Congress, Democrats and Republicans both, about the President's use of executive authority. Have you worked with them more on this than you did on previous declarations?
SECRETARY BABBITT: As I explained at the outset, I think we have a very good process going with the Congress. It is working better in some places than others. We've already had some success.
This process, in many ways, began at Otay Mountain just outside of San Diego in the summer of 1996. And the discussion originally focused on the possibility of my making a recommendation to the President. And then it went into another direction in which the Republican and Democratic delegation members said, no, we'd like to make it a wilderness area. And I said, well, you could have fooled me, you know. You want a more restrictive congressional designation, be my guest. That bill is now on the President's desk. There's a very interesting process going on in the Santa Rosa Mountains, outside of Palm Springs, where Congresswoman Bono is now preparing legislation that we've been deeply involved in.
As I said before, the California recommendations that I made are certainly influenced by the fact that Congressman Farr had drawn up these bills and introduced them, and had gotten no response at all. As a member of Congress, he did not even get a hearing. And it was Sam Farr's recommendation to me -- he has independently written the President asking that this should be done, and he has very effectively lobbied me. And I think there's been adequate discussion, and a chance for Congress to take a look at it.
It's a little different in Arizona. We can get into that, to the extent that anybody wants to.
Q How many areas are you looking at as possible monuments nationally? And forgive a parochial question, but are you looking at any in Utah, such as San Rafael Swell?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, this is -- as I explained to the House Resources Committee, I don't have a list. Everything that we have done has been in the light of day. We have traveled and held proceedings and discussions and field trips, I would say, on about a dozen sites in the West. We have not done that in Utah, because I have a developing relationship with Governor Leavitt, which has been very productive in terms of the Utah Land Exchange, which was a major achievement for the Governor, for the Congress and for this administration.
We've been working on a management plan for the Escalante Monument, and in that context, what I've said to the Governor is, we have the makings of a productive relationship, and we've got plenty on our plate, and so we are not -- there's no other agenda for Utah at this time.
Q You mentioned the previous designations had never been revoked by successor Presidents. Does that mean they can be?
SECRETARY BABBITT: It's not clear. All I can say is, for 100 years it has never been done. What a court would say, in interpreting the Antiquties Act I wouldn't even guess at. I've long since passed my legal expertise.
Q What kind of appropriations committee concurrence is needed on the land legacy projects? And, secondly, what were the three Presidents that did not withdraw land under the Antiquities Act?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Land legacy -- I'm going to let George Frampton step up and answer that question. The three Presidents were Nixon, Reagan, Bush.
Q Is there a pattern there? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BABBITT: George.
MR. FRAMPTON: The understanding which we have with the Congress on the recommendations for the use of the additional monies follows the same pattern of previous use of federal acquisition money under the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That is, the administration makes recommendations for the designation of different projects, and the Appropriations Committee concurs or suggests changes. That's usually done through the chairs and the ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees are the key people, and it's akin to the reprogramming authority. We send a letter, they yea, no, or change.
Q Mr. Secretary, one other thing. What is it that you get from declaring it a national monument that you can't already do because there are public lands? Does that allow you, for instance, to set aside mining rights and that sort of thing?
SECRETARY BABBITT: No. The proclamation -- every one to my knowledge that's been issued, and certainly the Escalante and certainly my recommendation would be that. All proclamations carry a phrase, "subject to valid existing rights." And to the extent that there is, for example, a mining claim which has been perfected, it remains unaffected by the proclamation.
Now, the importance of these designations -- whether by the President under the Antiquities Act, by the Congress through use of the Wilderness Act or creating a national conservation area, creating a legislative monument; there are many others -- the importance of the designation is I think it's a statement that what these lands are is sufficiently important that we ought to commit to keeping them intact in perpetuity; that they are a part of our American heritage and that they will be held and administered for that purpose. Out of all other uses, some will be permitted, but all other uses will be subordinate to the fact that they are dedicated in perpetuity as part of our national heritage.
Q Mr. Secretary, is this an attempt to curry favor among environmentalists for the Vice President's campaign?
SECRETARY BABBITT: This is an attempt to curry favor with the American people by saying, as virtually every President has done throughout this century, we are attempting to preserve and pass on the very best of America's natural heritage, of its history, of its archaeology, of its great open landscapes.
Q And if it helps Al Gore?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Maybe -- it would really be something if all of the candidates would opine on presidential use of the Antiquities Act, and step up and tell the American people how they feel about this kind of project.
Q And I had one other question. What do you say to logging interests, other people who would like to use this land to criticize the President as creating forest-based museums so that we could walk through the forest at some point in the future and say, look at all this wonderful timber that's going to waste?
I have to say, in all fairness, if I could, Mr. Secretary, based on modern-day harvesting procedures, could use the forest and still maintain its integrity.
SECRETARY BABBITT: I would say to the author of that question, buy a plane ticket, got to Sea-Tac Airport with destination Portland, Oregon on a clear day, and fly out over the old growth forests of the Cascades and look at the devastation that has taken place historically in the name of we have to have access to every last acre of land. It simply isn't the case.
We have a lot of timberlands in this country, we have a huge private base of timberlands. They are being administered in an effective and increasingly sustainable way, but there are parts of God's creation which I believe, the American people would like to see intact forever. Thank you.
Q Can you address Bob Stump's concerns about Shivwits, in particular, about this being about at least a third larger than any previous proposal and Stump says you're short-circuiting the process that has been going on in this particular area.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, the Shivwits has obviously been front and center very publicly for one year. I've personally presided over public meetings in Colorado City and in Flagstaff. My staff and Molly McUsic, who is the motivating force in much of this, has visited -- she's from North Carolina. I don't think she had ever been to Arizona, but I can tell you, she knows the Arizona strip better than 99 percent of the people in Arizona. We have talked, worked, listened, and come to the following conclusions.
First of all, I make a recommendation to the President because we're not making it on the legislative front. Congressman Stump introduced a bill some months ago; I was very disappointed, to say the least. I went up to the Natural Resources Committee and said, this bill actually reduces the level of protection. It doesn't restrict mining, it encourages mining by mandating more mineral studies and leaving it open to unrestricted entry under the Mining Act of 1872. That's just a non-starter.
As I explained before, the original trip that I took out there looked at an area -- at the entire area sort of with the idea of an arbitrary boundary kind of drawn across, to kind of come across the north side of Mt. Trumbull, over the Nevada border and then connect up with the Kaibab National Forest.
What I saw when we were on the landscape, to my surprise, was that it doesn't make any sense, that the arbitrary line was repeating the inadequate vision of the past -- that if we're going to protect the Grand Canyon, we've got to protect the waters that create it, and the watersheds that generate the waterfalls, the topography of the side canyons, and the river. And that means following out the drainage of those canyons I mentioned -- Parashant, Andrus, Cottonwood Wash. And you will see that the boundary reflects exactly that hydrographic and topographic divide.
Q Secretary Babbitt, can I just follow on something you said just a moment ago? You talked about the Northwest. And the logging industry says that any time an environmentalist wants to set aside a piece of forest, they pull out the photographs of the old forestry management techniques that show these huge clear-cuts, but that do not accurately reflect modern forestry management techniques.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, I can show you a lot of modern forestry management that is -- caused by whatever practice -- still plainly apparent to be clear-cut. Now, the second fact is that the biologists and ecologists -- clearly if we want to protect the salmon streams of the Pacific Northwest and restore those endangered species, there need to be places where this kind of just terribly disruptive activity is off limits. And that's the philosophy underlying the Northwest Forest plan. It's not a major issue in my recommendations to the President. I haven't heard a word from the timber industry, frankly. They're not opposed to it, or if they are, they've been very quiet. And the reason is that there's no commercial harvest in the rocks and islands, and no trees in the rocks and islands, okay?
I don't think there's ever been any timber cutting in and around Pinnacles. It's an isolated kind of little desert island. The timber cutting in the Grand Canyon/Parashant was phased out in the 1960s. It's just not --
Q But there's plenty in the Cascades.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Yes, but I'm not making any recommendations about the Cascades today.
Q I thought you were making a recommendation to the Lands Legacy Act.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, that's for Mr. Frampton. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Secretary, the Arizona congressional delegation is concerned there hasn't been enough citizen input. And you've mentioned the meetings that you've had there. Can you give examples on how citizen input has impacted or changed your mind, so you can say these meetings have worked -- tell the delegations these meetings weren't for show, we have listened to the residents and we've changed our plans because of that.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Yes, sure. When we had the hearings in Phoenix over the Black Mesa-Perry Mesa-Agua Fria area, we had -- my initial impression was that this BLM land is kind of an area that moves north between the two national forests and is bracketed on the north by a national forest, and that it would make sense to include the entire area. As a result of the discussions, we excluded from my recommendation to the President the west side of Interstate 17, about half of the BLM area there, because there were a variety of improvements and resource conflicts. There had been below the mesas, on the west side of I-17, there are a lot of mineral claims. It's really part of the Bradshaw Mountain mining district. And, to the contrary, on the east side of I-17, there's been virtually no mineral activity now or ever. So it was -- I think that's an example.
MR. FRAMPTON: Let me clarify the discussion about forests. I don't think there's any commercial timber land at all, at least none that's of any significance, in the four monument recommendations that are coming to the President today.
Q I'm talking about the Lands Legacy set-aside.
MR. FRAMPTON: The one acquisition that I think you're talking about is a $3.7 million proposal to purchase some land from Plum Creek Timber Company, a willing seller, which is actually a part of a larger land exchange called the I-90 Land Exchange, that was worked out in a huge negotiation between Plum Creek, the Forest Service, the environmental community over the last year. They came to an agreement, Congress ratified that agreement in the Appropriations bill, in fact, wrote in as a legislative language, enabling language for this land exchange. And a part of the final deal was that the company escrowed some additional acreage which the federal government promised to try to buy to complete the overall pattern of that land exchange.
And this is our commitment to do that. And it's a willing seller. It's part of a deal which I think is a spectacular deal. In effect, the federal government bought some cutover land that was very, very valuable, and some other potential lands that have not been cut that are needed for habitat protection. And in the final analysis, virtually the entire environmental community in Washington State, the timber company, the Forest Service, and the governor, the state lands division, all came together in this agreement. And this is sort of our commitment to the final piece of it.
Q What about the Lake Logan set-aside in North Carolina?
MR. FRAMPTON: That I'm not familiar with. We'll try to get you some information.
Q There's a lot of selective hardwood cutting in that area.
MS. LANCE: It's part of the Champion Paper property that they have put on the market. So they are selling it to someone, and the question is, will the Forest Service --
Q I only ask these questions, sir, because when we look at the other side of the coin, the loggers will say, we're engaging in responsible forestry management techniques and we're being chipped away at a little piece at a time. You're putting, particularly in the North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia area, mom and pop operations out of business. And I'm just wondering why these two things in your mind aren't compatible.
MR. FRAMPTON: Well, I guess I would say that in the southeast there are some very significant issues about forest health and timber supply, and the future of the timber industry -- paper pulp mills and so forth, pollution -- there are a lot of issues, but the question of whether public lands would be taken out of the timber base is an almost negligible portion of that set of issues.
There is so little public land, public commercially viable timber, in the southeast that is going to be -- what's going to be protected is already sort of designated for protection, or protected. So the public lands -- public timber land is such a tiny proportion of the timber supply and it's mostly protected. So the question of public timber supply is definitely still an issue, big issue in places like Montana and Idaho, and even eastern Washington and eastern Oregon, but I don't think it's a big part of the future economy or future of the timber and paper and pulp industry in the southeast.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:00 A.M. EST