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Protecting America's Natural And Cultural Heritage

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November 9, 2000

Protecting America's Natural And Cultural Heritage

President Clinton today signed proclamations creating the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona and expanding the Craters of the Moon National Monument in central Idaho. These lands, nearly one million unique and pristine acres already in public ownership, make up an irreplaceable part of America's natural and cultural heritage. Monument designation will protect these lands from sale or lease, including mineral leasing, and ensure that they are managed with the primary goal of protecting their unique resources for future generations.

A Century of Land Stewardship In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act, authorizing the President to create national monuments on lands owned by the federal government to protect "objects of historic and scientific interest." All but three Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have used the Act to protect natural and historic treasures. These areas include Death Valley and Muir Woods in California; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; Glacier Bay, Misty Fjords, and Admiralty Island in Alaska; the Grand Tetons in Wyoming; portions of Washington's Olympic Peninsula; and Utah's Bryce and Zion canyons. More than 100 monuments have been designated in 24 states and the Virgin Islands, protecting some 70 million acres, about 10 percent of all federal lands.

Protecting America's Natural and Cultural Heritage In 1998, President Clinton directed Interior Secretary Babbitt to report to him on unique and fragile federal lands in need of additional protection. In August, the secretary recommended the following lands, which the President is protecting today:

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument The monument covers 293,000 acres of federal land on the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona. The area is a geologic and historic treasure, covering the Paria Plateau and the Vermilion Cliffs and ranging in elevations from 3,100 to 7,100 feet. Humans have explored and lived on the plateau and surrounding canyons for thousands of years, since the earliest known hunters and gatherers crossed the area 12,000 or more years ago. The area contains high densities of Ancestral Puebloan sites, including remnants of large and small villages, some with intact standing walls, field houses, trails, granaries, burials, and camps.

The monument also contains a unique combination of cold desert flora and warm desert grassland. Twenty species of raptors have been documented in the monument, as well as a variety of reptiles and amphibians. California Condors have been reintroduced into the monument, and Desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lion, and other mammals roam the canyons and plateaus. The Paria River supports sensitive native fish, including the flannelmouth sucker and the speckled dace.

The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management will manage the area. Currently permitted livestock grazing, hunting, fishing, bicycling, and similar activities will generally not be affected, nor will the designation affect state or private property or other valid existing rights such as water rights or access. Water for the monument is protected by the pre-existing federal water right in the wilderness area.

Craters of the Moon National Monument The current Craters of the Moon National Monument, created by President Coolidge in 1924, covers 54,440 acres of craters and lava flows in southern Idaho. The expansion would add an additional 661,000 acres of federal land, primarily south of the current monument, to encompass the entire lava field. The expansion takes in almost all the features of basaltic volcanism, including the craters, cones, lava flows, caves and fissures of the 65-mile-long Great Rift, a geological feature that is comparable to the great rift zones of Iceland and Hawaii. It comprises the most diverse and geologically recent part of the lava terrain that covers the southern Snake River Plain, a broad plain made up of innumerable basalt lava flows that erupted during the past five million years.

The unusual scientific value of the expanded monument is the great diversity of exquisitely preserved volcanic features within a relatively small area. The volcanic features of Craters of the Moon attract NASA scientists -- who came in preparation for their mission to the Moon -- and a quarter-million annual visitors. The National Park Service will manage the younger exposed lava flows (approximately 410,000 acres) and the Bureau of Land Management will manage the shrub-steppe lands historically used for grazing within the expansion area (approximately 251,000 acres). The entire area will be managed for the predominant purpose of protecting the geological and other features for which the monument has been created. Currently permitted livestock grazing, hunting, fishing, bicycling, and similar activities will generally not be affected, nor will private property within the boundary (approximately 6,994 acres) or other valid existing rights such as water rights or access.

Each monument includes only lands already owned and managed by the federal government. Private property rights are not affected, and valid existing rights on the federal lands are preserved.

With today's action, President Clinton has created 11 national monuments -- including Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Agua Fria in Arizona, Giant Sequoia in California, and the California Coastal monument -- and has expanded two others. The President has protected more land as national monuments in the lower 48 states -- over 4.6 million acres - than any president in history.

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