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Az GOP congressmen call for end of Ironwood, Sonoran nat'l monuments

A group of Republican representatives, including three Arizona congressman, are calling for the complete elimination of four national monuments in Arizona, including the Ironwood Forest National Monument just outside Tucson. They also called for shrinking or de-listing others across the nation.

On the list is the Ironwood Forest monument, along with the Sonoran Desert National Monument near Gila Bend, and the Grand Canyon - Parashant and Vermillion Cliffs national monuments in this state. Also on the list are Bear's Ears and others in Utah, and nearly two dozen others across the United States.

Members of the Congressional Western Caucus, including U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, the chair, and Reps. Andy Biggs and Trent Franks, all Arizona Republicans, joined several other for their party in calling on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to rescind the declarations of the monuments, which were established by previous presidents.

They said that the Ironwood monument near Tucson restricts possible mining operations, and that the Sonoran Desert monument, 100 miles from the border near Gila Bend, "jeopardizes national security" by limiting Border Patrol agents.

"Pima County has and will continue to support both the Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert national monuments as currently designated," said Sharon Bronson, chair of the Board of Supervisors.

"No congressman who signed on to this letter has contacted the Pima County Board of Supervisors to seek our views," Bronson said. "These monuments attract tourists, particularly millennials, and are a boon to our local economy. These recommendations need public vetting and to date there has been none."

President Donald Trump, who had ordered a review of all national monument designations under the Antiquities Act since 1996. The act, which allows presidents to designate national monuments, was called an “egregious use of government power” by Trump.

The Antiquities Act is an early 20th-century law that lets presidents unilaterally protect historic, cultural and natural resources on federal land by declaring it a monument.

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"Rather than focusing on Trump's tweets, we should focus on these major public policy shifts and make our voices heard," Bronson said.

Gosar, the Prescott Republican who leads the group, blasted the previous administration.

"With the stroke of a pen and the blind support of out-of-state extremist groups foaming at the mouth to lock up lands to serve their own agenda, President Obama trampled the will of the people and ignored the wisdom of local stakeholders" in creating monuments, he wrote.

Obama's "massive land grabs and wrested millions of dollars in economic activity from western states," said Biggs, a Gilbert Republican. "The 1906 Antiquities Act has also become the catalyst for radical environmentalist groups seeking to prevent Americans from having access to the nation's natural resources."

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, called a report by Zinke last month to reduce Bear's Ears "nonsense." The letter released by the congressional Republicans calls for the total reversal of the designation for that 1.5-million-acre national monument in southern Utah, as well as eliminating the four in Arizona.

Experts have questioned the president’s authority to change a standing monument’s designation, but they said Congress has full authority to modify, revoke or rescind a national monument.

Arizona has the most national monuments of any state, with 18 of the federally protected sites.

Grijalva, whose office did not provide comment Tuesday or Wednesday but who has discussed the administration's plans before, said previously that national monuments designated by previous presidents are not subject to “Donald Trump’s whims,” and he vowed to fight back if the review ordered by Trump is just a pretext to “destroy a legacy of conservation built over decades.”

“Attempting to wipe national monuments off the map with the stroke of a pen would be illegal and unpopular, and this review will show as much,” said Grijalva, the senior Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee.

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, a Tucson Republican, did not provide a comment, although her staff acknowledged the request.

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The Arizona sites covered by Trump's order are:

  • Ironwood Forest National Monument, just northwest of Tucson
  • Sonoran Desert National Monument, southwest of Phoenix
  • Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, north of the Grand Canyon
  • Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, also near the Grand Canyon

All were created by President Bill Clinton in 200-2001, and all were among those the GOP congressman are calling to eliminate.

The letter sent by the GOP group to the Interior secretary pointed to the prohibition on mining and geothermal energy production as well as ban on recreational shooting on the Ironwood monument. They also mentioned the potential need to re-route an electrical line when it reaches the end of its serviceable life.

The Ironwood monument has restricted the ability of ranchers, "whose herds have grazed the land for generations,' to fence areas and access the land, they said.

Although the Sonoran Desert monument sits astride Interstate 8 near Gila Bend, about 100 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, the Republican congressmen cited its "proximity to our nation's southern border" as presenting "a unique challenge as it pertains to land management." The Border Patrol must deal with "bureaucratic red tape" in seeking permission from other agencies to operate on the monument, they said.

"This designation jeopardizes national security for the sake of legacy building," they wrote.

The Sonoran monument has also prevented recreational shooting and limited vehicle access for big-game hunters, they said.

In comments before the signing of Trump's order, Zinke said the order would not remove any monuments and would not weaken any environmental protections on any lands. But he said the Antiquities Act is due for a review, claiming that in recent years it has been too restrictive – placing public lands off-limits to grazing, fishing, mining and outdoor recreation.

“Somewhere along the way the act has become a tool of political advocacy rather than public interest,” Zinke said.

But if the administration tries to go beyond a mere review to rescinding some monument designations, as critics fear, it would be breaking new ground: While the president has the power to designate monuments, no president has ever taken one away, they said.

“The president has no authority to rescind these designations,” said Kevin Dahl, the Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “I don’t know why they’re reviewing it. They can maybe do a couple of tweaks, but I think it’s a bunch of political hot air.”

Dahl said that rescinding the designation on any monument would have to go through Congress, and any attempts made by the president to unilaterally make the change would face a lengthy legal battle.

The Antiquities Act has been key in protecting areas like the Grand Canyon and other iconic lands in the country, Dahl said, adding that “to dismantle it is nothing short of a betrayal to the American people and the land and history we’ve spent generations protecting.”

Ironwood established partly to protect developers

As TucsonSentinel.com columnist Blake Morlock pointed out in May, the Ironwood monument was created as part of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which is Pima County's "effort to guide growth, protect the environment and provide developers with a simpler path to get their projects built."

Ironwood "is also part of a giant 'mitigation bank' for the Endangered Species Act," Morlock wrote. "Simply put, developers in critical habitat can build only if they preserve an amount of critical habitat up to three times the acreage that they blade. So the Ironwood's 72,000 acres of land got roped off, which in fact allows up to thousands of acres of development closer to town."

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Jul 4, 2017, 10:08 pm
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The Members of Congress signing the letter, including the three Arizona Members, apparently thought that the Sonoran Desert National Monument is located in SE Arizona on the Border.  Much of their comments emphasize the problems the Monument is creating for Border Security on the Border.  The Sonoran Desert National Monument is actually located West of Phoenix, which you would expect the Members of the Arizona delegation to know.  Much of their complaints about the Monument to Secretary Zinke have to do with Congressionally mandated management requirements which they either did not know about or just conveniently forgot.  Based on their ignorance about the location of the Monument and the history of its management they called for complete rescission of the Monument’s designation.

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BLM

The Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson was created in 2000 in part to protect the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. The birds were taken off the endangered species list in 2007.