By the time President Theodore Roosevelt made his first visit to
the Grand Canyon in 1903, Benjamin Harrison had already invested
more than a decade through his career in the Senate and part of
his own presidency in an effort to set aside the magnificent canyon
for the American people. History hardly notices Harrisons frustrated
attempts and final modest success at creating at least a national
forest on the site. Its Roosevelt and his bully pulpit style
of using executive powers granted him under the Antiquities Act
of 1906 who will always be remembered as the savior of the Grand
Even then, though, the idea of creating a federal monument beyond
local authority had its outspoken opponents. Among them was an
ambitious rancher who had his eye on owning the Bright Angel Trail
down to the bottom of the gorge and charging tourists for the
mule-back trips. He was C.J. Babbitt, the patriarch of the Babbitt
empire in Northern Arizona, and the grandfather of U.S. Secretary
of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.
As with other small contradictions in his family background, Bruce
regards the matter with a sort of wryly-amused arrogance. In
his mellow years, chortled the Secretary, my grandfather said
he always was in favor of protecting the Grand Canyon. As I told
the President, history is on our side.
It was just 11 days into the new year, or the new millennium as
some saw it; the start of a new century, a new era, and the pinnacle
of what Babbitt immodestly refers to as the Golden Age, of his
administration in Interior. Only hours before, he and President
Bill Clinton had indeed made history by declaring the sweep of
high range and rust red outcrops in Arizona west of the canyon
park as the Parashant National Monument. Helicoptered back to
Grand Junction, Colo., Babbitt gloated and rocked on his heels
like a pompous Mussolini agreeing to a timid few questions from
Every member of (Arizonas) congressional delegation except one
is opposed to this, began a reporters query. How do you account
With a jowly imperial smirk, the Secretary paused a beat before
answering. I read in the newspaper this morning that 78 percent
of Arizonans support the Presidents action. I dont hold myself
out as an expert on Arizona politics. (There was laughter at
that point over the former Arizona governors understatement.)
I am a student of Arizona culture and history. Im gratified
by that (public) response (in the press).
So you dont want to answer the question? the reporter followed.
What was the question? Babbitt replied.
Its the one question that never really gets answeredwho the
hell does Bruce Babbitt think he is?
In Arizona, elected officials from Governor Jane Dee Hull and
Senator John McCain on down fumed over the unexpected move by
Clinton and Babbitt to grab the Parashant for their own glory,
ignoring and effectively double-crossing the states own elected
leadership, which was then backing a bill in Congress to declare
virtually the same expanse of the Shivwitz Plateau a National
It was the same move Clinton and Babbitt had put on Utah with
Grand Staircase Escalante in 1996, and the same autocratic threat
Babbitt held over half a dozen other western regions like some
Nottingham sheriff controlling the lords and vassals of Prince
Only a few months before, at an October congressional hearing
in Washington, Arizona Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) had pressed
Babbitt, asking that the Secretary provide Congress with a list
of areas under consideration for arbitrary monument status.
Babbitt replied with one word, No. There was a stunned silence,
not really the first of its kind in the many times Babbitt has
expressed his defiance of congressional authority. I dont mean
to be disrespectful, the Secretary added without apology.
By December, Babbitt sounded even more contemptuous of the House
and Senate. Weve switched the rules of the game. Were not doing
anything legislatively, he said. By then, Babbitt had been on
another of his tours of the West, holding court and offering audiences
in selected rural areas where he characteristically met with representatives
of environmental organizations and followed that up with thinly
veiled threats to local ranchers and minor officials about coming
to agreement with him or facing the power of executive authority.
Wherever he went he generally avoided the press, and the questions.
He did it in Colorado, in Arizona, in Oregon, in Montana, each
time leaving behind a gauntlet that promised he would return with
punishing power unless he got what he wanted. The clock is running,
he even warned Congress, taking note of the last few months of
power left to him.
But Arizona was not the only state in which local representation
was unwilling to cave in to the despotic bullying of a cabinet
secretary. Almost nowhere did Babbitt get the local rubber stamp
agreement to a new designation for lands he wanted. Instead,
representative groups including resource advisory councils, local
and state government committees, and even congressional delegations
agreed to hear out the concerns of people who earn their livelihood
from the lands and tried to adjust new agreements that would assure
them a future. It never came down to granting the additional federal
authority Babbitt demanded.
The powerful Secretary sulked at their disobedience from his richly
panelled office above the Lincoln Memorial. It was only a short
distance to the White House and to his old friend from the Wilderness
Society, George Frampton, who is now acting chairman of the White
House Council on Environmental Quality. Just a few words from
the right people, and the President, as required by law, would
come up with his own idea about what needed to be a national
monumentfor the good of future generations.
In Denver, a month after his grand grab of the Parashant, Babbitt
bragged to students at the University of Denver Law School that
he finally went to Clinton at the end of 1999 and told him it
was time. Weve offered to engage the Congress, and what we
got in return was a sham piece of legislation, Babbitt said
he told the President. Thats the reason that President Clinton
went to the Grand Canyon in January. By then, the area Babbitt
had demanded from local officials had doubled in size, from 250,000
to 500,000 acres, a region as large as Connecticut.
Now, with the Parashant hanging from his spear along with the
figurative public heads of Arizonans who defied him, Babbitt could
make his threats of the previous summer even more clear.
It would be great to get these protection issues resolved in
the congressional, legislative process, he told the Denver students.
But if thats not possible, Im 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 dont and you do, you will be vindicated by history for
generations to come.
Information provided to the press the day before made it clear
Babbitt was talking about a long list, including the Anasazi region
in Colorado, Steens Mountain in Oregon, Santa Rosa Mountain in
California, and The Missouri Breaks in Montana as part of what
he proclaimed to be a new National Landscape Monument system
run by a revised Bureau of Land Management.
In each case, Babbitt was effectively sending a warning to elected
representatives from each of those states who were already at
work on agreements and legislation that would more fairly assure
the future of those regions and the people reliant on them for
their livelihood. Without any legal authority, he was telling
them, do it his way, or he would do it himself.
In his speech at the Denver Law School, Babbitt tried to bring
the future lawyers into the chummy club of his own as a western
kid who earned a Harvard law degree and went on to become governor
of Arizona for nine years. Someone surveying my successors since
I left office said, The progression is conclusive proof that
Darwin was wrong, Babbitt told them, and when they didnt seem
to get it, he added quickly, I dont mean that seriously, obviously.
But Bruce Babbitt was very serious in compiling a record number
of vetoes over legislation during his administration and a reputation
for crushing any political views that lacked his approval. By
the 1990s, there were few in the political establishment of Arizona
who didnt know about Babbitts ham-fisted
Blocked in by Native American reservations and set aside from
main roads, the strip is a part of Arizona seldom seen even
by adventuresome eco-tourists. Most of it, however, had been utilized
in peaceful production for generations by the stable Mormon families
who had established their ranches there and willingly over the
years agreed to the multi-use contracts with federal authorities.
As far as any of them could tell, there was no pressure from outside
development, nor any outrage of environmental harm, nor even any
tourist interest in the region they quietly continued to steward
as generations before them had done.
Then, in 1998, as his place in Clintons cabinet was nearing its
close, Bruce Babbitt returned to what he called home on the
south rim of the Grand Canyon. This is a national shrine, he
intoned, ...but theres something wrong here because the Grand
Canyon National Park is not co-extensive with the eco-system of
the Grand Canyon. Citing Roosevelt and others, Babbitt looked
300 miles further down the Colorado River and said, Weve got
to pick up where these people left off, because theres not a
lot of time left.
What he meant by that seems unclear, but those who participated
in the dialogue remember that it seemed to be the Secretary
himself controlling the clock.
First he exhibited one map to one group, and then another map
to another group, and then it went from a million acres to 260,000
to 585,000, remembers Bas Aja of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association.
Babbitt already had control of most of it anyway, with over 390,000
acres in the region under management of the BLM. Grazing permits
on that public land served as the essential link to the 8,000
acres of deeded homesteads and ranches. But no one could be sure
of what Babbitt intended by his plan to extend the set-aside status
of the Grand Canyon into these remote regions.
The local ranchers and townsfolk appealed for help from their
state legislature and got it in the form of resolutions opposing
any new, restrictive, designation for the federally-owned territory,
but state action was almost meaningless. In what the local people
regarded as needless compromise, the Arizona congressional delegation
sought to stave off Babbitts arbitrary grab of Shivwitz as a
monument by preparing a congressional bill to name it as a National
Conservation Area that could include provisions for grazing and
Well, I kind of bought into that line in a moment of weakness
and said, Okay, Ill stay my hand, Babbitt recalled to the
Denver students. Actually, however, Babbitt was furious. It had
been less than a year, hardly time for a bill to take shape in
Congress. Bruce Babbitt declared himself too impatient for the
democratic process, and too important to wait on the Arizona delegation.
He went to the President.
Betrayed after months of trying to bring local input to the issue,
Arizona Cattle Growers President Jed Flake erupted in frustration.
This isnt about protecting land, its about vying for political
PR points with an uninformed suburban public, he said. The land
in question is already protected by the BLM and is depended upon
by hundreds of ranch family members who, as stewards, protect
the range and its sustainability.
Most every important detail concerning its [the Parashant Monument]
creation proposed at public meetings or town halls has proven
Theyre hurting people, not protecting anything from anyone,
said area rancher Orville Bundy. I guess I feel like a Phoenix
homeowner who just found out his home was designated as parkland.
Were extremely scared.
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) used to be a Democrat.
Part of what pushed him over the edge into changing parties was
an encounter with Babbitts arrogance over range reform in 1992.
Unable to convince western senators of his own plan, Babbitt accused
Campbell and others of torching their own ranchers just to prove
their machismo. It was yet another outburst demonstrating Babbitts
contempt of any process that disagreed with him.
So when Babbitt went after the Anasazi region in the Four Corners
area of Southwest Colorado, Campbell and others were waiting for
him. The Secretary took note of the national parks already established
around the pre-history ruins of Mesa Verde and other Anasazi sites
and sneered at them as little postage stamps on the landscape.
He wanted at least a quarter million acres, incorporating the
grazing land of the very ranching families that had first discovered
Mesa Verde and pressed for its preservation. Babbitt called his
vision for a vast new monument part of an anthropological ecosystem.
What shallow promises Babbitt made for continued multiple-use
didnt fool most people in Colorado. Just as in Arizona, his own
anointed Resource Advisory Council (RAC) was not about to give
him a rubber stamp for a new designation of the area. The chairperson
of the RAC, land use attorney Erin Johnson, supported the idea
of protecting the region, but her group was split on Babbitts
demand for a designation. Nor did the public and community hearings
conducted by the Anasazi Working Group put any trust in Babbitts
demand for a new designation that would increase BLM authority
and give it broader enforcement powers in the region. The working
group stressed the years of success by community groups and multiple-use
protecting their local treasure. They suggested that, with the
aid of many willing volunteers, existing BLM management simply
The people in the group would have preferred no designation at
all, said Mike Preston, co-chairman of the Anasazi committee,
but we trust a lot more in the legislative process to represent
the interests of the people.
It wasnt enough for Babbitt, who wrote a rebuking letter to the
co-chairmen of the working group. ...I certainly hope we can
forge a solution that addresses the concerns and suggestions raised
during the public process you led, Babbitt wrote. But, I firmly
believe that there is a critical need to deliberately and quickly
move forward with actions.... He would talk to Colorados congressional
delegation, Babbitt said, but if they didnt do it his way, he
would go to the White House.
We are real concerned about that, admitted Preston.
Senator Campbell knows well the arrogance of the Interior Secretary.
Campbells own bill to protect 164,000 acres of the Four Corners
region as a National Conservation Area took direct note of the
public restrictions imposed by Clintons 1996 Utah land grab and
specifically provided for protection of multiple uses, including
grazing and recreation.
In contrast to the administrations monument creation, my bill
would require public hearings which would allow everyone from
local ranchers, recreational users and all local officials to
be involved with preserving this area, said Campbell.
That wasnt what Babbitt wanted to hear. Now, the hour is late,
he told the Denver students. This discussion has been going on
for a year now. I am reminded of the Arizona experience... Were
now in, say, the seventh inning and this team isnt just going
to walk off the field. Not only did he want monument status for
the Anasazi, but for another spread of land in southern Colorado
around the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Again citing his
Arizona experience, Babbitt said, Im looking at my watch saying
Its February. Its a presidential election year. Congress will
recess early and often. They will go home early. And we must
bring this discussion to the kind of resolution thats important
for the people of Colorado and the country. It was as clear a
contemptuous threat as Babbitt could make it, but Campbell wasnt
Well see, said a spokesman for the Senator. The game wont
be over this year.
Len Shrewsbury had briefly walked out in a fury when the U.S.
Forest Service facilitator defied the clear majority intent
of the Southern Oregon RAC and suggested they find a name for
the new designation on Steens Mountain. (See RANGE, Winter 99)
Now, wintering with his ever-roaming RV in Arizona, Shrewsbury
saw what he had expected from the Interior Secretary. Despite
all the public input and the clear position of not only the RAC,
but a working committee of state officials that Steens should
be left as it is, Babbitt had it on his list for a Landscape
I was told we would be used, said the 74-year-old Shrewsbury,
but I thought we could accomplish something in spite of it. It
just makes you feel helpless.
Babbitt himself had warned them, just as he had warned their counterparts
in Arizona and Colorado and elsewhere. Im here because I believe
theres a window of opportunity and I intend to bring it to a
conclusion on my watch, he said during a 24-hour visit in August.
The working partnership between landowners and federal authorities
on the unfenced Steens Mountain was regarded as a model of successful
stewardship. Even Babbitt called it, the best in the West. But
a radically determined group of environmentalists based in Portland
and Bend had plans to use Steens as the anchor of a massive six
million-acre park and wilderness area. They were questionable
even among more established environmental groups, but they had
Babbitts ear, and Babbitt now coveted the previously little-known
mountain in a remote part of south-central Oregon.
He regarded the regions RAC as stacked enough with interests
beyond grazing to be easily led by the tediously tested method
of a facilitator guiding them to the expected conclusion. But
the public hearings on the issue, even loaded with bused-in enviros
from Portland, heard ranchers, small businessmen, hikers and fishermen
all saying the same thingSteens works fine just as it is. Drawing
even more attention to it, as Babbitt was doing, could only cause
problems. Giving it some new designation would virtually guarantee
that fences would rise between public land and the two-thirds
of the mountain that was in private hands. In their plan, the
radical environmentalists had in mind to force those private owners
out in a willing seller offer that would follow elimination of
grazing rights. All that was obvious to the RAC, and certainly
to Babbitt, but he left no doubt of what he expected in his window
Im being ambiguous about that because the press is here, he
said, but everyone knew that he wanted it his way, or he would
do it the way he and Clinton had in Utah. Democratic Governor
John Kitzhaber was among those who understood it when Babbitt
took him on a helicopter tour. But even Kitzhaber couldnt manage
agreement to a new designation of Steens from a special committee
set up to supercede the RAC.
Common sense seen by almost everybody is that there is no need
to put something in perpetuity to replace whats working fine
now, said Shrewsbury. Nevertheless, despite obvious and restated
local opposition, Steens is on Babbitts short list for monument
status, along with Soda Mountain to the south.
We feel victimized, said Stacy Davies of Roaring Springs Ranch,
the 140,000-acre unfenced model of public-private stewardship
on Steens (see RANGE, Summer 99). The whole thing has destroyed
the community atmosphere here; put neighbor against neighbor.
The [Clinton] administration has no respect for that. Oregon
congressional leaders are working on their own proposal for Steens
in a self-defense move already tried in Arizona and Colorado.
But if Babbitt does as he has threatened and turns to the arbitrary
authority of the Antiquities Act, little can be done except for
Congress to overturn the presidential action. Not once, since
Theodore Roosevelt first employed it at the Grand Canyon, has
such a monument designation ever been overturned by Congress.
It scares us to death, said Davies.
Len Shrewsbury says he hasnt slept well this winter, and hes
losing weight. He admits to thinking too much about it, too much
about Babbitt. Who can trust him? he asked.
The bi-centennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition is approaching
with widening public curiosity about how much the West has changed
since President Thomas Jefferson sent the Corps of Discovery off
to explore it in 1802. Thats probably one reason why they see
more and more floaters paddling and drifting along the Missouri
River these days. That, and possibly the attention drawn by Babbitt
to the badlands of the Missouri Breaks as a landscape monument
he wants as part of Bill Clintons legacy.
If anything, the Interior Secretary was even less circumspect
in sending out his message to the generational heirs of homesteaders
and rugged small towners along the Missouri north of Great Falls,
Mont. There seems little likelihood that this region of broken
plateaus and deep coulees will be threatened by any sprawl of
development. It is, in fact, little changed since Lewis and Clark
camped there, except that where they might have seen buffalo,
cattle now graze.
They sent a guy from Babbitts office here, and I just couldnt
believe it, said Wilma Econom, a ranchers wife from Fort Benton.
He didnt really want to listen to anybody. It was more like
just to threaten them.
The Missouri in this region is already designated as a wild and
scenic river. Nobody has any real problem with that. But Babbitts
familiar proposal to throw a vast new federal cloak over the checkerboard
of public and private lands in the Breaks made no more sense
here than it had in Oregon or elsewhere. The same thing happened
as it had elsewhere: local committees and the RAC Babbitt hoped
would fall in line refused last year to set some new designation
for the already protected area.
There was a charade of participation, but we knew they werent
listening, said Ron Poertner. It was just a veil in bringing
it to the RAC, said Jim Peterson. He was hell-bent to make the
Missouri River a monument, and common sense didnt have any place
in the process. Matt Knox, another rancher in the Breaks, saw
it as needless, useless, and ultimately destructive to what
actually is still a living piece of developed history over the
last 100 years of settlement and successful stewardship. Theyd
eliminate that for the sake of their legacy, he said.
As elsewhere, the people of Missouri Breaks, along with elected
representatives from Montana have fought back with what they have.
Poertner and his Missouri River Stewards organization are circulating
a petition that urges Babbitt to see that a monument would only
destroy the values we are trying to save.
They dont really expect Babbitt himself to listen, of course,
any more than a similar organization, Take Back Montana, expects
to wisen up the Interior Secretary in this his last hell-bent
year in office.
They keep taking more and more, how do we stay? said Wilma Econom.
You begin to think, is this really a government for the people,
by the people?
Palm Springs calls to mind wealth and celebrity dripping from
a securely warm expanse of resorts and golf courses in driving
range from Hollywood. Not Bruce Babbitts style, really, but his
stop at the lush desert oasis wasnt just to hob-nob with the
stars or even the exceptionally well-off Native Americans who
still benefit from their historic ownership of the exceptional
site. With a little help from an environmentalist group, Mountain
Conservancy, Babbitt looked up from the flat greens of the Coachella
Valley to the mountains of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa ranges
that seem to leap in a steep western wall around the spectacular
setting. That was BLM territory, his ground, and from where he
was standing, the Interior Secretary could hardly miss imagining
what a great photo opportunity it provided. With hardly any local
consultation at all, the mountain ranges were put on his short
list for campaign-year monuments.
We knew hed do it, said Ed Kibbey of the Palm Springs Building
Industry Association. Unless we joined in the fun and games,
it was going to be a Clinton monument.
Not that Kibbey and others were opposed to some protections for
the surrounding mountain regions, about half of which was in private
hands, but scattered in a checkerboard pattern of deeds and inholdings
that made any large development unlikely. The question became
whether it would be Babbitt and Clintons way, which would cast
a shadow of control over it all, or whether that could be met
with some legislation that would preserve monument status for
the region and still protect private rights as well as grazing
and recreation opportunities.
Babbitt left behind his usual warnings while Congresswoman Mary
Bono (R-Calif.) went to work on her own National Monument Bill,
an unusual choice compared to the efforts in other regions to
establish Conservation Areas. We wanted to eliminate the buffer
zones and the sort of regulations that would spread out from
the federal land, said a spokesman for her office. The bill
is something we think is home-grown and represents the interests
of the people in our district.
When he heard about that legislation, Babbitt said, okay, hed
keep his hands off, said Kibbey. But the bill was just making
its way into the House Resources Committee in February when Babbitt
put his list of monument sites before the media, with no mention
at all of pending legislation from California or any of the states.
The people of Chicago and their children are going to live in
a big city but know that there is open space forever that belongs
to them whether they come and visit or not, Babbitt proclaimed.
It didnt bother Kibbey too much. Its a gamble, he said. Either
way we get a monumentour way or Clintons way. We know Babbitts
not too thrilled about the legislation, but whats he going to
Theres at least 180,000 acres of federal land in the mountain
ranges looming above the Coachella Valley. You can almost see
it, or at least imagine it, from several sites in Palm Springs
that would make excellent spots for a photo opportunity in the
late summer of this campaign year.
* * *
In his press proclamation intended to attract the urban environmental
support he always expects, Bruce Babbitt was not even above condemning
his own loyal employees in order to take high stance in an imagined
This nations largest land management agency ought to be induced
to have a sense of pride, Babbitt said, complaining that his
own Bureau of Land Management has been too pro-logging and pro-mining
and pro-grazing. He told reporters there will have to be changes
in the BLM workings as a result of his new system created from
some four million acres of the West on his list for National Landscape
In every case where Babbitt has targeted a monument, from Arizona
to Montana, a scratch below the surface finds honest BLM employees
proud of what has been the relationship with local people, embarrassed
by what Babbitt suggests it will be, but generally too afraid
for their jobs to say more. Babbitt, they know, does not tolerate
Bruce was born in Los Angeles in 1939. His father brought him
back to old C.J.s ranch when Bruce was six, but Bruce, who grew
up in Flagstaff, wasnt long welcome on the ranch. They say the
self-absorbed boy liked to wander out on the range, and that was
fine, but he never remembered to close a gate behind him.
Tim Findley is an investigative reporter who has worked for the
San Francisco Chronicle and Rolling Stone. He lives in Fallon,
The U.S. Antiquities Act
Section 2 of the Antiquities Act of 1906 says:
The President of the United States is authorized, in his discretion,
to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic
and prehistoric structures, and other objects of scientific interest
that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government
of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve
as part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases
shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper
care and management of the objects to be protected.
The geologic curiosity of Devils Tower in Wyoming was firstonly
1,153 acres. But by 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt employed the act
to save over 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon, the idea of a
smallest area compatible seemed to have been forgotten in the
terms of the law. Although it has been challenged, and, in the
case of the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole legislatively opposed
all the way to a threatened veto by President Franklin Roosevelt,
no use of the act by executive authority has ever been overturned.
Although later adjusted into a broader terminology, President
Jimmy Carter even used it to set aside more than 55 million acres
Next to Carter, President Bill Clinton stands to be the only president
since Theodore Roosevelt to so actively employ his executive authority
under the act. Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush never used it
In virtually every other case in which the act was employed, the
land set aside as a monument was put under the authority of the
U.S. Park Service. With Grand Staircase Escalante in 1996, President
Clinton set a new precedent by assigning management of it to the
Bureau of Land Management.
One result of Clintons free-wheeling use of the act may be major
constitutional challenges to its intent and implementation, leaving
it an open question of whether Babbitt and Clinton may be killing
the goose while they lay their eggs.
The irony of that may be found in Wyoming, where, after the federal
grab of the Grand Tetons, Congress added a rider to prevent any
further such intervention in Wyoming lands. So far it hasnt been
challenged and Wyoming appears nowhere on Babbitts wish list
for the end of the century.--Tim Findley