Clinton Seeks Legacy in New National Monuments
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, January 17, 2001 (ENS) - Six new national monuments were set aside today in the western United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands. President Bill Clinton used his nearly expired executive authority to protect the half dozen natural and historic treasures, and to expand the boundaries of two additional monuments.
In the waning days of his eight year tenure in the White House, President Clinton is scrambling to protect some of the nation's most endangered natural areas using the controversial Antiquities Act. The 1906 law gives the president the authority to create new monuments on existing federal lands, without consulting Congress.
"Some years ago, Wallace Stegner observed that America has a fundamental interest in preserving wilderness because the challenge of wilderness forged our national character," said Clinton. "He wrote that the wild places give us a "geography of hope" that sustains us in our busy lives, even in the largest cities. Today we protect this geography of hope."
The six new monuments bring the number created by Clinton to 17, nearly all in western states. The President has also expanded a total of four monuments, including the two enlarged today.
CELEBRATING THE LEGACY OF LEWIS AND CLARK
In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition was launched nearly 200 years ago, the President signed orders created two new monuments along the historic Lewis and Clark Trail.
Under the direction of President Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent close to three years exploring America's western frontier. Aided by their Corps of Discovery, they traveled 8,000 miles, mapping rivers, mountains and prairies. The explorers navigated and named two-thirds of the American continent, filled their journals with detailed images of the natives they met, and wrote the first scientific descriptions of nearly 300 plants and animals.
In honor of the historic exploration, Clinton created the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in central Montana. The new monument spans 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River, the adjacent Breaks country, and portions of Arrow Creek, Antelope Creek and the Judith River.
"If you canoe these magical waters or hike their weathered cliffs, you may still encounter elk or bear, wolves, mountain lions, even bighorn sheep, just as Lewis and Clark did in 1805," said Clinton.
The monument covers some 377,346 acres of federal land, including the Missouri Breaks country north of the Missouri River. The Breaks is the only major portion of the Missouri River to be protected and preserved in its natural, free flowing state.
"In all the talks over monument designation, one thing everyone has agreed on is that the area should be kept the way it is," said Mark Albers of Great Falls, Montana, director of the Montana Field Office for the conservation group American Rivers. "The Breaks are an area of unparalleled beauty and historical significance that certainly merit protecting for the benefit of present day residents and that of future generations."
"While the proposal has caused a lot of angst and uncertainty for some landowners, I don't believe life is going to change much for the ranchers on the river," Albers added. "The task before us all now is to get on with preserving this national treasure while maintaining and enhancing traditional uses and values."
The Breaks is also the premier segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
In 1805, Lewis and Clark spent three weeks traversing the area, which encompasses an array of habitats including rolling grasslands, white cliffs, rugged badlands and remnants of ancient cottonwood groves. Their journals describe the geology of the river banks, the Native American culture and a vast range of wildlife.
"The hills and river cliffs which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance - it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never end," wrote Lewis in his journal.
Farther along in their journey, Lewis and Clark encountered Pompeys Pillar, a sandstone pillar that has provided a landmark for more than 11,000 years of human occupation.
On July 25, 1806, Clark carved his name and date into the pillar's sandstone surface. The pillar also bears Native American drawings and other historical inscriptions. Clark's journal entry described it as "...a remarkable rock [with] the most extensive view in every direction."
Today, Clinton commemorated the efforts of the explorers by granting posthumous promotions to William Clark, his Native American helpmate Sacagawea and Clark's personal slave York.
Clinton promoted Clark from Lieutenant of the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers to Captain in the Regular Army, with an effective date of March 26, 1804. On the expedition, Lewis and Clark shared equally the responsibilities of command, and although President Jefferson sought the rank of Captain for Clark, the promotion was denied by the War Department and Clark was instead given the rank of Lieutenant.
Clinton presented the title of Honorary Sergeant, Regular Army to York, Clark's personal slave who accompanied the expedition party. York was the first black man to cross the continent, and was not freed until several years after the expedition ended.
NEW MONUMENTS GRACE FOUR STATES
Based on recommendations by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Clinton also created or expanded six other national monuments.
Bisected by the San Andreas Fault zone, the area is the largest undeveloped remnant of this ecosystem, providing critical habitat for the long term survival of the many native plant and animal species that inhabit the area.
The Sonoran Desert National Monument is located in south central Arizona, about 60 miles from Phoenix. The area encompasses a functioning desert ecosystem with an array of biological, scientific and historic resources.
The most biologically diverse of the North American deserts, the monument consists of distinct mountain ranges separated by wide valleys, and includes large saguaro cactus forest communities that provide excellent habitats for a wide range of wildlife species. The outer boundaries of the area encompass about 486,149 acres of federal land.
Rich in pumice, ash and tuff deposits, the light colored cone shaped tent rock formations are the products of explosive volcanic eruptions that occurred between six and seven million years ago. The monument includes about 4,148 acres of federal land.
The Minidoka Internment National Monument is located in south-central Idaho, about 20 miles northeast of Twin Falls. The monument includes portions of the Minidoka Relocation Center, a World War II era Japanese-American internment camp. The monument includes about 73 acres of federal land now managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.
The U.S. Virgin Island Coral Reef National Monument expands protection for the area in and around the Virgin Islands National Park. The monument includes 12,708 acres of federal submerged lands within the three mile belt off of St. John, including Hurricane Hole and areas north and south of St. John.
Buck Island Reef National Monument was established in 1961 by Presidential proclamation just north of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The original proclamation describes Buck Island and its adjoining shoals, rocks and undersea coral reef formations as "one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea," which are of "great scientific interest and educational value to students of the sea and to the public."
Some of these new monuments are likely to face opposition from the incoming George W. Bush administration. Bush and his cabinet appointees have vowed to closely examine many Clinton administration environmental initiatives, including monuments created by executive orders.
Already, the new monuments have been criticized by incumbent Republicans.
"It's getting so people in the West can hardly wait to get up in the morning, wondering what President Clinton is going to do to us today," scoffed House Resources Committee chair James Hansen, a Utah Republican. "We have three days left in President Clinton's administration and several million acres of federal land he hasn't found a way to lock up yet. These next 72 hours could be fun."