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Bronson blasts GOP call to eliminate Ironwood Nat'l Monument

Sharon Bronson, the chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, said she is "astounded" that three Republican congressman from Arizona are calling for the elimination of four national monuments in the state, including the Ironwood Forest just outside Tucson. They "assert outright falsehoods," she said.

Bronson sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday, responding to the call by U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Trent Franks to reverse the declaration of Ironwood, as well as shrinking or de-listing other monuments across the nation.

As first reported by TucsonSentinel.com last week, the three joined several others in their party in calling Zinke to rescind the declarations of the monuments, which were established by previous presidents. In addition to the Marana-area Ironwood Forest monument, on the list are 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.

Gosar chairs the Congressional Western Caucus, which sent a statement to Zinke on June 30. Biggs and Franks are also members of that group.

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.

"I was frankly astounded" that the three recommended elimination of the monuments, Bronson said in her letter, calling the GOP move "disingenuous and lacking in any local
constituent input."

"No congressman who signed on to this letter has contacted the Pima County Board of Supervisors to seek our views," Bronson told TucsonSentinel.com last week. "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."

The Pima County Democrat told Zinke that none of the Arizona congressmen who backed rescinding the monument designations had inquired of her about the impacts to the local economy or environment if that were to take place.

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"Instead, their lack of contact demonstrates they have no regard or respect for the broad views of their constituents whom these elected officials are supposed to represent," she wrote.

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.

In the GOP letter to Zinke, 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."

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 are among those the GOP congressman are calling to eliminate.

Bronson pointed to what she said were numerous flaws in the Republican's review.

The group "seems to have little understanding of, or interest in, how these monuments are actually managed on the ground or what activities are allowed on monument lands," she said. "Intentionally or otherwise, the ewe asserts several outright falsehoods in its justification for rescinding the (Ironwood monument), relying on incorrect information regarding its management, which frankly calls into question all of the recommendations made" by the GOP congressmen.

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The Republicans said that the monument designation "prevents multiple-use on State Trust lands," but Bronson said that the Ironwood monument "designation did not make any changes to how State Trust Lands can be used within the monument's boundaries."

While the GOP maintained that the Ironwood proclamation "explicitly prohibited" off-highway vehicles on monument lands, Bronson said that OHVs are "explicitly allowed" on roads and trails, with the same restrictions applying on all Arizona state lands and most other federal lands in Southern Arizona.

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.

But Bronson pointed out that "ranching continues" on the monument, and that ranchers have had "significant input" in determining access to the 11 grazing leases that lie within the site's boundaries.

As reported by TucsonSentinel.com last week, although the Sonoran Desert National 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.

Bronson blasted the Republican trio, saying "in addition to having no meaningful understanding of how these monuments are managed, I am also appalled that the CWC Arizona representatives have so little knowledge of the geography of the state they represent and the actual locations of these monuments."

That monument "does not in any way "abut" the border, as the CWC misleading statements imply," she wrote to Interior Secretary Zinke. "Unless the CWC also wants to cede the Gadsden Purchase back to Mexico, this clear error is seemingly designed to mislead the public about this monument designation and undermine its broad and unwavering support in the local community."

"Contrary to the CWC assertion that the monument jeopardizes national security, I would argue the Sonoran Desert Monument benefits national security and military training because
it abuts and buffers the Barry Goldwater Air Force Bombing Range," Bronson said. "If the CWC were actually concerned about national security, they would consider how the elimination of this monument would affect U.S. Air Force training."

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, called a proposal 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 last week nor respond to questions about Bronson's letter 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.”

Both the Ironwood and Sonoran Desert Monuments lie within the 3rd Congressional District, represented by Grijalva.

“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 comment last week on her colleague's statements nor this week regarding Bronson's letter to Zinke, although her staff acknowledged requests.

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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