Norton targets monuments for changes
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MARCH 29, 2001

Accusing her predecessors of ignoring their views, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton on Wednesday asked state, local, and tribal leaders throughout the country to suggest possible changes to the national monuments that would open them up to oil and gas development, mining, and other uses.

"Are there boundary adjustments that the Department should consider recommending? Are there existing uses inside these Monuments that we should accommodate?," asked Norton in a letter.

"I would like to know your views on vehicle use, access to private inholdings, rights-of-way, grazing, and water rights, as well as the wide spectrum of other traditional multiple uses that might be appropriately applied to these lands," she added.

Norton's move is the latest in a series of actions the Bush administration and Republican lawmakers have taken to dismantle the environmental legacy of the Clinton administration. And although Norton has said she won't rescind any national monument outright, her letter indicates she will try to fulfill President Bush's promise to convince Americans that development of national monuments is acceptable.

But proponents of the monuments not only question potential changes but the motivation for seeking them altogether. Since a number of the monuments, if not all, have received local support, they charge the new administration is out of touch with the way Americans feel about public lands.

"There is strong public support for our parks and monuments," said Melanie Griffin, director of land protection programs at the Sierra Club. "These lands are national public lands owned by all Americans so they should not be handed over to the highest bidder."

"I think the new administration weakens protections for these areas at their own political peril," Griffin said.

Staff of Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who lobbied heavily for the creation of the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico, also questioned Norton's letter but were not surprised by it. Declared in late December, spokesperson Jude McCartin noted the 4,148-acre monument has the support of the state's Congressional delegation, neighboring counties, and Cochiti Pueblo, which considers parts of it sacred.

"Any time there is such a groundflow of support means it was thought over very clearly and discussed," said McCartin. "I don't know what is behind Secretary Norton's decision to write this letter, but Senator Bingaman would oppose any mineral extraction at Tent Rocks."

"The whole idea behind having a national monument is preserving the land," she added.

But Tent Rocks may be safe from the type of development and changes the administration is seeking. The Bureau of Land Management, who has managed the area jointly with Cochiti Pueblo, says there aren't any known oil or gas deposits at Tent Rocks. Grazing is very limited, hunting and fishing uses have already been preserved, and only three mining claims have been made at the site, which is rich in pumice.

"Tent Rocks has so much local support and it has no oil and gas reserves," said Martin Heinrich of New Mexico's Sierra Club and who attended last year's declaration. "I'm very hopeful that Tent Rocks will stand as a monument."

Other monuments, or parts of them, might not be so lucky, however. According to a US Geological Survey study commissioned at the request of Republicans who have been critical of the Clinton administration's land policies, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado contains "undiscovered oil resources."

The 164,000-acre monument is home to ancient Puebloan ruins and is used by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe for ceremonial and other purposes, all of which were preserved by Clinton's proclamation. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) opposed its creation last June and said Clinton imposed it by "imperial decree."

The Governor's office of Cochiti Pueblo could not confirm if they had received Norton's letter as of Tuesday afternoon.

More on Monuments:
Norton's Letter to Local Leaders (Department of Interior 3/28)
Monuments Targeted by Norton (Enviro 3/29)

Relevant Links:
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument -
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument -

Related Stories:
Pueblo monument targeted for oil (Enviro 3/27)
Environment: The GOP strikes back (Enviro 3/21)
Norton: 'Untouched' areas won't be touched (Enviro 3/20)
Bush vows change in lands attitude (Enviro 3/14)