U.S. Department of the Interior

From Grand Staircase to Grand Canyon Parashant:
Is There a Monumental Future for the BLM?

Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt
Transcript of remarks at the University of Denver Law School
10:30 am Thursday, February 17, 2000

Introduction by Dean Nell Newton:

I want to thank you all for coming this morning. I especially would like to thank the Natural Resources/Environmental Law Program and the Carver Chair, which is held and ably managed by Jan Laitos, for sponsoring this wonderful event and welcoming the Secretary of Interior to the University of Denver College of Law. And it is my great pleasure to introduce Bruce Babbitt, the Secretary of Interior. Secretary Babbitt was appointed by President Clinton in 1993. He has had one of the longest tenures of any Secretary of the 20th Century, ranking with other great Secretaries of the Interior, Stewart Udall, and Harold Ickes in length of service.

Among his many legacies is the preservation and restoration of a great deal of land to the public for multiple uses, including recreation. Secretary of Interior Babbitt is also charged, I would be remiss in not bringing this up, with supervision of Indian Affairs. And he has been one of the most open and fair-minded Secretaries of the Interior dealing with this nation's Indian tribes. He certainly will be regarded as one of the great Secretaries of the 20th Century, and I want to thank him again for coming and turn the podium over to Bruce Babbitt, the Secretary of the Interior.


Thank you.


Dean, thank you very much. I appreciate the introduction. I was just refreshing my memory about asking the Dean whether or not it would be absolutely necessary for me to subject myself to questions. (LAUGHTER). She said, "Yes, that is a condition of appearing at the University of Denver Law School."

I wanted to come here, and I accepted this invitation from the Dean and the faculty with great enthusiasm because, I'm on my way to Grand Junction, and I have been coming west to the Grand Junction for the last seven years, I must say to mixed responses out in western Colorado, varying from lynch mobs (LAUGHTER) to pretty productive discussions over time. But, this time I think there's something in the wind - not only in Grand Junction, but in Colorado and throughout the West that I would like to talk about.

The West is once again quickening to the issues of how we live on this landscape and what kind of open space we want, and how it is we're going to strike a more sensitive balance on the landscape in terms of development, the use of natural resources, and our long-term presence on this landscape.

Colorado got off to a good start on these issues at the turn of the century. With a lot of action in terms of the creation of national parks, monuments, forests. It was an extraordinary legacy. But in recent decades, it's been quiescent. In fact, it's been kind of quiescent all over the West. And the fact that has changed is that the West is filling up. That the open spaces are now beginning to close, and the West is becoming an urban place. And there is now, I think, a sense of urgency, about - not just celebrating the visionary acts of a lot of great leaders in the first half of the century - but turning to the future and saying "What is it that we want to see fifty and a hundred years from now?"

Now I'm going to talk specifically about Colorado, because I do think there is a sense of urgency, and to some degree there's been a sense of impasse on this landscape. I believe attitudes are changing. I believe public demand that we address these issues is now palpably returning. And I think that we have a tremendous opportunity.

But before I talk about Colorado and my adventure out toward Grand Junction, I want to talk just a moment about Arizona. Because, among other things, I grew up in Arizona. I was... for a magical nine years, the Governor of Arizona. It was the last golden age of governments in Arizona (LAUGHTER). Someone surveying my successors since I left office said "The progression is conclusive proof that Darwin was wrong." I don't mean that seriously, obviously.

But I thought about a year ago that I would turn to Arizona, where I have special connections and a long history, to try to join this dialogue of "what should this landscape look like?" and "what is our place on the landscape?" And I went back to Arizona and started at Grand Canyon - and said to the people of Arizona "This is a national shrine... but there's something wrong here because the Grand Canyon National Park is not co-extensive with the ecosystem of the Grand Canyon." Because, as inspired as Teddy Roosevelt and all of the others were, they saw the Grand Canyon from a platform on the south rim. They had no concept of the grandeur, and the extent and the glory of an ecosystem which runs 300 miles along the Colorado River which extends up the tributaries into the volcanic highlands of the Arizona strip. And I said to the people of Arizona "We've got to pick up where these people left off, because there isn't a lot of time left. We need to have a sort of vision of what kind of space we want in the long run." I did it, incidentally, in a few other places in Arizona that nobody had ever heard of which I thought were pretty interesting and where I've spent a lot of time.

We got a wonderful dialogue going. But then the Arizona Congressional delegation said that any use by the President of the Antiquities Act would be a shocking abuse of executive authority. "Stay out of here and we'll get it done by ourselves." Well, I kind of bought into that line in a moment of weakness and said "Okay, I'll stay my hand."

About three months later the Arizona delegation introduced a bill called the "Grand Canyon Protection Act" which expanded the boundaries and then reduced the existing protections under the general land laws. They said, "We'll add a million acres to the Grand Canyon, but in this new edition of the Grand Canyon we're going to encourage mining, we're going to remove the existing restraints upon the division of private land, mining, all of these other extractive activities." That's the point at which I went to President Clinton in December and said "You have a little over a year to draw this dialogue in Arizona to a close. We've offered to engage the Congress, and what we got in turn was a sham piece of legislation." That's the reason that President Clinton went to the Grand Canyon in January.

It was an awesome day. He wanted to do it in the most remote part of Grand Canyon. You can't get there from Arizona. You have to go to Utah - and even when you're in Utah you can't get to most of it. So, they decided that we would helicopter in. On a marvelous January day we landed in Marine One on this vast plain. There was nothing in sight. It doesn't look like anybody's been there since the end of the Triassic. And, I'm looking out as we land, and there's a Marine in dress uniform, standing in a patch of salt bush. The only guy on the whole landscape for a hundred miles. And, it had its moments. We sat at a little table, he signed, and I looked over and all of the reporters were in line in front of a baby blue port-a-john (LAUGHTER) which was right next to Marine One. I thought, you know, there's sort of transcendent and mundane detail on this landscape.

But, in any event, apart from the details, he added a million acres to the protected area of Grand Canyon National Park. Interestingly, the response in the Arizona press was, 78% of the people in Arizona said "That's a great idea." And the split was the same for democrats, republicans, urban and rural.

And, that kind of brings me to Colorado, because I sense the same kind of disconnect on the Colorado landscape. I suspect if you took a poll statewide in Colorado which asked a similar Colorado question, and I'll come to the specifics, you'll probably get a similar answer. But it's not reflected in the political process - as it was not reflected in Arizona.

So, that's the reason I'm on my way to Grand Junction, to see if we can join a dialogue in which, I'm saying on the front end: "It would be great to get these protection issues resolved in the Congressional, legislative process." But if that's not possible, I'm prepared to go back to the President, and not only ask, not only advise, but implore him to use his powers under the Antiquities Act and to say to him: "Mr. President, if they don't, and you do, you will be vindicated by history for generations to come." Just as President Harrison, President Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Taft, notably Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, virtually every President in the past century has done. Often in the midst of intense controversy. But in every single case, validated by history and the generations of Americans who have this passion for the western landscape.

Now the specific issues in Colorado - and I'm going through each of them in a little bit of detail, so I can hopefully sort of dry out some of the issues in this kind of historic dialogue that goes on in the West.

The first one is Southwestern Colorado. The country down below Durango and out toward Cortez and Dove Creek is the richest, most extraordinary archeological landscape in North America. I won't detail the kinds of discoveries that are coming off of that landscape, but it is truly incredible. Now, in the 19th century, people were down there - and of course they saw Mesa Verde immediately, and it is a ... I think it may in many ways be the most evocative of all of our national parks. Now, I'll immediately deny having said that when I'm in Arizona (LAUGHTER). But, I probably would stick by it, because there is something about being on that landscape. A sense... a palpable sense of the presence of our ancestors and the magical way that they lived on that land in absolute resonance with the landscape and the life on the land that is ... it is just really incredible. I can't describe it.

The people who were down there then turned back and said "These sites need protecting." And they protected Mesa Verde in the form of a national park. But then they went West onto this landscape of riches and they would see a ruin and they would make a National Park or a monument out of the forty acres surrounding the ruin. And if you go down to Hoevenweep National Monument it's like... little postage stamps on the landscape. Somebody saw a ruin and fenced off 20 acres, ten, five, forty around it. And you begin looking across this landscape and say "Hey, wait a minute. This isn't about a ruin here or there. Don't you see, it's about a whole, interwoven landscape. It's about communities that were living in and on this land and relating to each other and moving across this landscape and drawing their living and their inspiration and their spirituality from a landscape." Doesn't it make sense in light of a subsequent 100 years of understanding to say that we have room in the West to protect the landscape, an -- if you will -- an anthropological ecosystem. The real science on these landscapes doesn't come out of digging out a room and extracting a few pots. That was the 19th century - and it was important. The real discoveries today come from asking the deeper question of "How did communities manage to live in spiritual and physical equilibrium with the landscape?" And don't we need to assess all of the traces that have been left in so many intense and variegated ways, whether it's with petroglyphs, diversion structures for water, ramadas, all of those things. So, that's the question in Southwestern Colorado. Do we have the wisdom and foresight to say, before it's too late, before these landscapes start to get chopped up: We can do better than to protect five or six Indian ruins out on that land and say that there is room in this culture for a quarter million acres from which we honor the past and, more importantly, learn, and take inspiration from the past.

Now, the Colorado delegation in the last day or two, maybe week, has introduced a bill to establish a protected area along these lines. Now, the hour is late. This discussion has been going on for a year now. And I am reminded of the Arizona experience. So we're going to have a, I think, very important moment in which we're now in, say, the seventh inning and this team isn't just going to walk off the field. So, we have a nice dialogue going there.

Now, let me take you to the San Luis Valley. Because, this too illustrates these lessons. The San Luis Valley is, first of all, an important cultural landscape. It represents the northernmost reach of Spain in the 17th Century. The Spanish Empire made its way northward up the Rio Grande to the founding of Santa Fe in 1620, the subsequent spread of Spanish culture through northern New Mexico and into the San Luis Valley.

If you go down to those towns in the San Luis Valley, those communities are still there. And their traditions are intensely alive. They speak of their presence on that landscape as if the 17th Century were just yesterday. And what's happened on that landscape is a series of events which began about a decade ago when the City of Denver - I shouldn't say the City of Denver, I should say some promoters in the best western fashion - decided that they could sell water to Denver by going to the San Luis Valley, where there is a huge groundwater basin which has been charged with water since the glacial ages, and pump that water out, and send it into Denver.

Now, I think you can see the implications of that kind of decision. That's basically saying "We will take a rural valley, that's been inhabited by people on the land for three centuries and destroy the rural culture in the name of satisfying projected demands in Denver."

Do I exaggerate by saying it would destroy the valley? No. Because, you're going to have a groundwater table that's got a 1,000 feet of water in it, as the promoters were saying "There's a Lake Huron underground in the San Luis Valley." What they neglect to mention is that it's the top 100 feet of Lake Huron that sustains the landscape, the springs the wetlands, which nourish the migrating flocks that come down of the Western flyway from Alaska to Central America, but when you take the top 100 feet off of Lake Huron the landscape goes dry, the springs disappear, the creeks dry up, and the people who have been living in balance in this valley are, all of the sudden, at the mercy of outsiders.

Enter a National Monument called Great Sand Dunes National Monument. It's an interesting National Monument. Kind of like what there is in Southwestern Colorado. It was established by Presidential proclamation back in the days when people thought of the landscape as full of curiosities. And the curiosity which led to Great Sand Dunes was some admittedly great sand dunes. (LAUGHTER). But, you know, that's it.

And you go down to the San Luis Valley, go out from Alamosa in the morning, and watch the sun come up over this valley. It's sort of a scintillating white light that reflects off the crest of the Sangre de Cristos covered with snow at 14,000 feet and begins a backlight across this valley. And the sand dunes are nice. But there's a lot more there.

And now, in dialogue with the local communities we're saying "Shouldn't we have something that is more adequate to the landscape?" Let's look at those sand dunes. First, look up. There's a 14,000 foot peak of the Sangre de Cristos range that you can almost reach out and touch, and an entire ecosystem coming down the flanks of those mountains down to a four or five thousand foot valley.

Then, let's go out to these sand dunes in the spring and watch the water bubbling out of the sand and forming the tributaries that nourish the wetlands that form the headwaters of the Rio Grande. And isn't it time in this generation, with all of these development schemes pressing in, to say "We've gone from curiosity to landscape. We can begin to think of an ecosystem, and there's still time to protect that ecosystem." And the process to say to the people of Alamosa "These water export schemes have just acquired a new adversary. A built up adversary called The National Park Service in charge of defending an ecosystem - an integral part of which is not just sand, but water. And now the people of the San Luis Valley have an ally against all of these kinds of schemes. So, that's the issue down there. Can we look up, see it whole, and get protection.

Now, I was down there in this continuing dialogue about a month ago with members of the Colorado delegation. And there was legislation being drafted. And I'm hopeful we can get something done. But again, I look over my shoulder at the Grand Canyon, remembering that experience, I'm looking at my watch saying "It's February. It's a Presidential election year. Congress will recess early and often." (LAUGHTER) "They will go home early." And we must bring this discussion to the kind of resolution that's important for the people of Colorado and the country.

Now lastly, back to Grand Junction. The story in Grand Junction is also interesting. It is a magnificent landscape. It's named, of course, because it is the junction in that valley of the Grand... and... actually... I get confused, because the Colorado River used to be named the Grand, and then Colorado woke up and said "No, it's grand, but it's Colorado." So they've been renaming rivers over there. In that valley, the Gunnison and the Grand... No, that can't be right.... It's a junction of a couple of rivers over there okay! (LAUGHTER). And it's in some truly remarkable... this is plateau country. The Morrison formation, all the Jurassic, Triassic formations. Trek across the landscape and you'll trip over a dinosaur. The Colorado River begins its course through the canyons moving westward into Utah. We have a national monument there because, clear back in 1910 a resident of Grand Junction used to take his horse and buggy out on Sunday afternoons to admire the red rocks immediately to the west of Grand Junction. And, in the spirit of the time, curiosities... an Indian ruin, some sand dunes, nice red rocks right there... and he was an early anti-sprawl guy I guess because he said "We ought to protect those red rocks." And he contacted his Congressman and they got it done. So, we've got a national monument there. But the remarkable thing is - go to the national monument and start looking around. And you'll say "Hey, wait a minute. This isn't about the view from the visitor's center, it's about the wilderness areas on the south bank of the Colorado that extend unbroken, undeveloped, westward to Utah." It's about the Colorado River. It's the Colorado River stupid. I KNOW the name of the river there. Whatever the tributaries are, it's the Colorado River. But the monument doesn't extend to the most obvious resource in the whole place - which is the Colorado River.

Western Colorado is dinosaur city. There are quarries all over the landscape. And it's a wonderful complex. The quarries are all outside of the monument because, when this fellow from Grand Junction was protecting the view he wasn't into dinosaurs or rivers, or wilderness areas. So, doesn't that suggest that 100 years later it's time to assess our surroundings now that there are 100 times as many people and say "What is it going to come to?" Do we have the capacity to look up around us. Because, right now on this landscape it's pretty much either/or. Is it going to be a postage-stamp park, or wide-open public domain on which anything goes - that's called BLM land? And, once again, the dialogue we will continue this afternoon relates to "Can we do it legislatively? Or must we do it by the more traditional method - but Presidential Proclamation."

Well, this in a nutshell is the dialogue that is taking place all over the West. It is taking place at this point in time because people are uneasy about the future of the West. The population is growing. People who came west precisely because of the extraordinary evocative power of the land where they felt that they could live in a different relationship with creation, are now finding that congestion, sprawl, thoughtless development, unrestrained exploitation of the land is threatening to erase the very values, in the deepest of ironies, that not only brought them here, but created the very opportunity which now, carried on in linear, uncontrolled fashion, will threaten the end of the possibility of a new vision and a sustainable way of life on this landscape.

Thank you.


Begin question section:

BB: Okay - let's go. Yes.

Audience: Are you planning on addressing the issue of a new policy for management of these landscapes?

Yes. The questioner is asking in short - you said you were going to come out here and talk about a new system of land conservation units under the administration of BLM - and you're guilty of false advertising because you haven't said a word about what was in the press release. (LAUGHTER) Well, it's true. (LAUGHTER).

The institutional story is this, traditionally in the West when we've talked about monuments and parks what it has meant is designating the landscape and then taking it away from the Bureau of Land Management which administrates the public domain in the West. The Bureau of Land Management has three times as much land as the National Park Service, twice as much as the Forest Service. It is the owner of the matrix of public lands in the West. The traditional approach is, you see something nice, you get up a big movement to protect it, and you take it away from the Bureau of Land Management and give it to somebody else, namely typically the National Park Service in some cases the National Wildlife Refuge System. And out of that has grown a kind of perception that the BLM is sort of the Bureau of Leftovers, livestock and mining - whatever you want to call it. But, it doesn't seem to me to be an adequate way of looking at the Western landscape, because the largest land manager ought to be induced to have a sense of pride rather than simply having a bunch of inventory out in the garage that is discovered and given to someone else.

And that's the reason when President Clinton did the Grand Staircase Escalante in 1996 I said to him, you should create a first monument by Presidential Proclamation that has ever been created for and within the Bureau of Land Management. And people said "Well, why do that?" Well, I've given you one reason. And that is I think you give an institution some pride and some direction, not by stripping it by its best assets. But you also induce a new sense of the relationships on the landscape. The importance of Grand Staircase Escalante was that we were dealing with the landscape matrix in which Bryce and Zion and Parashant and Canyon lands and the Grand Canyon lay and turning the matrix into a coal mine didn't seem to make much sense. But the matrix doesn't need to be a national park. The visitation sites are already there. What you need to do is manage the ecosystem and make sure there are no incompatible uses. And that is the relationship that I think is now beginning to come upon the landscape. We are going to work this out at Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction because we're debating the jurisdictional future of the landscape adjacent to a national monument run by the park service. We are debating that in southwestern Colorado - because we are debating about the matrix in which there are discrete national park units. And, of course, we will be debating it in the San Luis Valley. And my hope is that out of this will emerge not two but three land management agencies in charge of administering live, vibrant, carefully protected conservation units - Fish and Wildlife Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management.

Way in the back.

Two questions. Don't you think Dinosaur National Monument might benefit from large visionary plan like you describe?

BB: Good.

and the second question is how do you approach this?

BB: Those are all the right questions. The first one is, "What about Dinosaur National Monument?" And I'm thinking - "Have we missed one in Colorado? Show me the way." Seriously - that's precisely the kind of dialogue that I think we should encourage. These initiatives have to have some roots in local communities. You can't just sort of impose them from on high. And that's why we've had this year-long dialogue down in Cortez, and why we have been to Grand Junction again and again. Because there are a lot of important site-specific issues. The National Park model is exclusive. It basically moves everything out. It may be in some of these cases, particularly where you have these big ecosystem landscapes, it is appropriate to have compatible use which you would not have in a national park. Hunting, I think is one example. That's an important activity in rural communities. Properly carried out it is not destructive of conservation diversity. It is not appropriate in a national park, but it might be in a BLM monument covering an entire ecosystem.

We need to look thoughtfully at the small family agricultural systems in the San Luis Valley. Those are long-standing traditional practices, they are scaled appropriately to the landscape. The type of activity that may be appropriate. We ought to work these issues hard and site specific. It is hard to generalize. A national park - there's a container, a statutory container. A national park in the famous phrase of Luna Leopold can be thought of as "a vignette of pre-settlement America." Now, that phrase has been with us a long time. It's got a lot of power. And it's a really nice paradigm for national parks. There isn't going to be any economic activity. No wood cutting, no hunting, no grazing, nothing. That may not be an appropriate standard for these large landscapes where we're seeking to sort out the destructive and incompatible uses and maybe not say that they need to be equivalent to the standard of a national park.

Right here.

(How do you think your tenure will be remembered at Interior after you're gone?

Well, a year from now, the Golden Age of the Department of Interior...


Okay, I'm told I can take one more question, then we gotta get out of here. Yes.


The question is, "What are you talking about in terms of size?" Well, what we do is look at ecosystems, not visitor platforms or curiosities. Now, in the case of Grand Canyon that meant another million acres to make it co-extensive with the drainage of the Grand Canyon. Not just a pretty - a gorgeous view from the south rim - but that view has its origins in the mountains a hundred miles away at 10,000 feet on the north rim - that's where the water comes from.

In southwestern Colorado the Anasazi civilization tended to use these finger mesas that come out between McElmo(?) Creek, Montezuma Creek and the others - and that happens to be about a quarter of a million acres. The President did an archaeological monument in central Arizona called Ague Fria -- which is a really remarkably well-kept secret. It's a Landscape Monument. It was a defensive community on the ramparts up above Phoenix and they've located line of sight watchtowers and shown how these huge Pueblo ruins were built in defensive array around about 100,000 acres. The whole landscape is kind of a Masada in central Arizona. As a single ruin it's not a very interesting place. But all of the sudden you think of Masada and how this all fits together and it's a starburst of revelation and the protection is fitted to the landscape.

The debate in western Colorado was centered around two wilderness study areas and the Colorado River. In the San Luis Valley I think we will begin by asking about how it is you protect the water and land resources of that valley in relation to what's there. I don't know if that's 50,000 acres, or 100,000 or what. I just don't know.

Okay, thanks very much.

Jan Laitos: Thank you for attending. Secretary Babbitt is available to talk to the press for about 10-15 minutes up here possibly. Thank you very much for coming.

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