THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Grand Canyon, Arizona) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release January 11, 2000 PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF INTERIOR BRUCE BABBITT AND ACTING CHAIR OF THE COUNCIL OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY GEORGE FRAMPTON Thunderbird Lodge Grand Canyon, Arizona
1:05 P.M. MST
MR. FRAMPTON: Good afternoon. A little nicer view than the West Wing. I'm George Frampton. I'm the Acting Chair of the White House Council of Environmental Quality. And Secretary Babbitt and I are here to basically answer questions you may have about the President's designation this morning of three new national monuments and the expansion of a fourth -- monuments that were recommended to the President in early December by the Secretary.
Q One of the points that critics of this designation have made in talking about Grand Canyon-Parashant is that they say a year ago you were talking about protecting about a half-million acres, now it's double. Why the big jump?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, the discussion about the Arizona monuments that the President designated has been going on in public for quite some period of time, and the exact acreage was put forward in my recommendation to the President. In the case of the Agua Fria National Monument, the acreage recommended was half of what we were originally looking at.
We originally, looking at the maps, thought that it made good sense to draw a line from the Tano National Forest to the Prescott National Forest, straight east-west above Black Canyon City, and that the monument would then nestle in between the national forests. Now, we got out on the ground and started the hearing process -- BLM had a structure hearing process. What we learned was that the west side of the Agua Fria had a lot of management conflicts in it -- mining claims, private inholdings, roads -- and it didn't make sense, and that the archeological resources on that side were relatively less abundant. So my recommendation to the President was for half of what we were originally looking at.
Now, why did the opposite occur in the case of the Grand Canyon-Parashant? The reason is once we got out on the land and began really looking at this, the USGS came back with a hydrologic -- with a watershed map of this region, and it's something that really didn't come through in our early discussions. And the import of that watershed map was that if you follow the logic of protecting the drainage in the watershed of the ecosystem, you should put the boundary not along a section line, which was the original -- let me just arbitrarily draw in drawing section lines -- you should find the drainage divide between the Virgin River and the Parashant Cottonwood Canyons. And this area is now essentially that drainage development. All of the water south of the red line into the Grand Canyon.
North is into the Virgin River. It's a very gentle divide. You can't sense it on the land. And, frankly, I didn't see it on the topographic maps until the GS began bringing it out by putting blue lines in drainages and emphasized the topography.
Q I understand that there are a small amount of state lands and private lands in the boundary of the national monument. Will that remain private land and state land, or how does that work?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, what we did in Utah, and what the President stated four years ago, in 1996, when that monument proclamation was made, he said that the disposition of the state land is really up to the state. If the state would like to sell or swap, we'd be willing to do that. As you'll recall, Governor Leavitt was quite strong about that. He said, we're going to maximize revenue to the trust by getting that land out of there and exchanged for revenue-producing lands elsewhere, and we, in fact, did that in the form of a legislative land exchange.
The President's position in Escalante was that the small amount of private land was -- the proclamation recognized that there were no plans to in any way force a decision on any private landowner. And I think both of those concepts are reflected in the President's decision today.
Q What's the background of the scattershot distribution of state lands in the area?
SECRETARY BABBITT: The state lands in western states were part of a statehood grant, which in the case of Arizona was four sections to a township, and that's what is reflected here. Now, in many parts of Arizona there's been a process of consolidation going on over the years. Some former governors of Arizona felt that it made a lot of sense to swap out these low revenue-producing lands and give the state trust high-value lands where there was some prospect for development.
Q Mr. Secretary, there's some confusion in my mind as to how many Republican Presidents never used the Antiquities Act. I've seen the number two or three, Reagan, Bush, Nixon -- could you clarify that?
SECRETARY BABBITT: You've answered the questions correctly.
Q It's three?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Yes, the three you named.
Just to elaborate on that, if you look at the acreage and the numbers across the 20th century, what's most impressive is that Republican Presidents wouldn't seem likely to be high on the list of users of the Antiquities Act really come out strong -- William Howard Taft, Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. There was a real, sort of explosion of Antiquities Act activity from -- during the teens and the '20s, and in the '30s, of course, under FDR.
Q Every member of the state's congressional delegation but one, Mr. Pastor, who was there today, is opposing this or has opposed this. How do you account for that, what does this say about Washington's relations with the western states or with Arizona, in particular?
SECRETARY BABBITT: I read in the newspaper this morning that 78 percent of Arizonans support the President's action. I don't hold myself out as an expert on Arizona politics. (Laughter.) I am a student of Arizona culture and history. I'm very gratified by that response. Three out of four people in this state, it's very gratifying.
Q So you don't want to answer the question?
SECRETARY BABBITT: What was the question? (Laughter.)
MR. FRAMPTON: Let me just add to that. Some of you may have clips indicating that over the Christmas holidays the major papers in the state, led by the Arizona Republic, which is obviously the leading and old newspaper, very strongly editorialized in favor of monument designation and urged the President to designate the monuments; and editorialized, basically, that the members of the delegation and the governor were absolutely wrong about their positions.
One other statistic that I think the President alluded to, and that is that with the designations today, President Clinton has designated more national monument acres in the lower 48 states, contiguous 48 states, than any other President.
Q What about on the -- just to clarify that, if you take the entire 50 states, how would he stack up?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Second only to Jimmy Carter, who used the Antiquities Act in Alaska as part of the major land protection initiative, which ultimately ended up in the Alaska Lands Act.
Q Mr. Secretary, you had recommended last month, I think a list of 18 places to be put aside. Can you sum up, what is the status of some of them -- bogged down in some controversy?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Let me step back and sort of narrate what hasn't happened and is happening. About a year ago, following on some discussions that I had had with the President, he sent me a letter and said, I would like you, over the next few years, to recommend to me places that are of particular national significance for their historic and scientific values. And go out and listen and discuss and make recommendations.
In response to that, what I have been doing is just that -- making appearances where there seems to be outstanding values and community interest. Now, it began in California, at a place called Otay Mesa, outside of San Diego. And the overwhelming support in San Diego County for protection of that area actually resulted in congressional action. And I said to the residents of San Diego County, if Congress is going to take the bit and work this out, I certainly wouldn't be making any inconsistent recommendations to the President. And Congress actually passed the Wilderness Bill which the President signed.
There are a number of other areas where this interactive process is going on right now. There are a couple of sites in California, the Santa Rosa Mountains is a very vigorous and wide-ranging discussion going on there. A couple of sites in Oregon that I think are of special interest, both for their intrinsic importance and because of the reaction in the delegation. Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon is most remarkable landscape. It has been under discussion as a potential national park or monument for more than 50 years.
And as a part of this process there is now an agreement between the Governor and the Oregon delegation -- Republicans and Democrats -- that they will have a consensus bill ready for introduction within the next six weeks.
Q You grew up in Flagstaff and have loved the Canyon all your life, majored in geology at Notre Dame -- what does it mean to you in a personal sense to have set this land aside?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Oh, geeze, don't get me started. Yes, I would repeat pretty much what I said this morning. In my own lifetime I have come to see the Grand Canyon, when I was young, as the border of my family's ranch to, as I was getting my education, a remarkable piece of geology and chemistry and physics which merited not only an undergraduate degree, but a graduate degree.
And then as this progression took place during my years as governor, when -- during my governor years, unbeknownst to the people in Washington, I adopted the Grand Canyon. I think most people felt during my years as governor that I was the superintendent of the Grand Canyon -- (laughter) -- and that it was owned by the State of Arizona, because of the solicitude that we had in state government for backing up the National Park Service, for taking everybody that ever came to this state and running them down the river and tramping down the Nankoweap Trail and roaming around.
There was even a time when we got so adventuresome that my chief of staff had to call off the National Guard for a search and rescue mission in the middle of the night, which Sheriff Richards can tell you about it. It ended in a wonderful little drama on a sandbar in Marble Canyon, where at midnight a National Guard helicopter swoops out of the sky and the sheriff -- who is still sheriff -- gets out and says, Governor, I'm here to rescue you. (Laughter.) And I said, Sheriff, we're doing fine, I don't want to be rescued.
And we had a long dialogue on that sandbar about who was going to back down -- whether the sheriff would go home without his quarry or whether I would be subjected to the indignity on the front page of the Arizona Press of having been rescued. Suffice it to say that the sheriff went home empty-handed.
The sheriff feels the same way about the Grand Canyon -- talk to him, he'll tell you a lot of us in Arizona have a very special feeling. I forget what your question was, is that enough? (Laughter.) Okay.
Q Thank you.
END 1:20 P.M. MST