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Arizona advocates buoyed by Obama monument action

Associated Press logo Associated Press 30/12/2016 By BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press

PHOENIX — Advocates for the creation of a national monument covering areas around Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park say they are hopeful after President Barack Obama created new monuments this week in Utah and Nevada, but Arizona's governor is threatening legal action if he acts.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, said the president's action is a sign that similar monument designations could come before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah will cover 1.35 million acres of tribal land in the Four Corners region, while the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument outside Las Vegas also was named Wednesday.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on any planned action by the president on a Grand Canyon monument.

The Sierra Club, other environmental groups and Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva have been championing a proposed for a 1.7 million-acre monument in the area of towering cliffs and canyons, grasslands, forest and desert that is popular with hunters and hikers. Currently, it's public land.

The area also includes 1 million acres rich in uranium ore where new mining claims are banned through 2032. A monument proposal would make that ban permanent.

"All we know is they have not said no to it and we're encouraged by the fact that they went ahead with Gold Butte and Bears Ears," Bahr said. "And we think that the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument (proposal) is every bit as valuable."

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the state's two GOP senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, strongly oppose a monument designation that presidents can make using the 1906 Antiquities Act signed by then-president Theodore Roosevelt.

McCain and Flake said in an October letter to Obama that the proposal "extends far afield from the intent of the Antiquities Act by seeking to lock away 1.7 million acres of land in Arizona - an area larger than the State of Delaware - from hunting, livestock, wildfire prevention, mining, and certain forms of outdoor recreation and tourism."

They said a monument designation won't help the biggest threat to the Canyon - a 15-year drought. They also said a monument could prevent thinning of forests and prevent hunters from keeping wildlife populations in check.

"Arizona cannot afford to have its hands tied when it comes to controlling wildlife populations, enhancing its water supplies, and preventing wildfires."

Ducey made similar arguments in a testimony to Congress this fall, saying there would be unintended consequences to restricting access to the area north and south of the Grand Canyon National Park that are part of the proposed monument.

On Thursday afternoon, Ducey threatened to sue or work to get Congress to rescind any action if Obama designates the land as a national monument. He said Arizona already has more national monuments than any other state and needs no more.

"I request that the president respect the wishes of our state's leadership and the Congress of the United States, which is where the real authority for public lands designations resides," Ducey said in a statement. "If designated by the president in his waning hours, Arizona will take every step necessary — legally and legislatively —to stop it. My hope is that the president respects our wishes."

Grijalva's proposal, seen as a blueprint for a monument, specifically allows hunting, fishing, grazing and recreation to continue. It also allows timber harvesting as part of a forest thinning or other restoration project.

Monuments, however, have added federal reviews for those activities.

The Sierra Club's Bahr said there is strong public support for protecting the area around the Grand Canyon.

"It's something that we hope the president will do despite the fact there are a very few very loud naysayers out there," she said. "Monuments have been established by presidents since Theodore Roosevelt, and you don't hear people saying that was a mistake."

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