DENVER (AP)--Hoping to instill a sense of pride within the Bureau of Land Management, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt unveiled a new land conservation system as part of the Clinton Administration's plan to protect more federal lands in the West.
The new National Landscape Monuments system, unveiled Feb. 17, will be operated by the BLM rather than more traditional agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service.
Babbitt, who has often battled with the BLM over what he considers its pro-mining and logging policies, said the new responsibility will give the agency a purpose that it has lacked. Previously, land that was deemed important was given to the Park Service.
"The nation's largest land management agency ought to be induced to have a sense of pride," Babbitt said.
Tina Arapkiles, the Sierra Club's southwest regional representative, praised the announcement, saying it would shift the BLM from its traditional mining and logging mindset.
"He's trying to protect land for the future. And the land that has been traditionally managed by the BLM has been viewed in our country's history as giveaway land or trash land. It's not worth anything but having cows or mines," she said.
The land being considered for landscape monument status is already owned by the federal government, though some holdings might be purchased as well. Other uses, such as hunting, will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The areas involved do not have significant mining or other industrial uses.
Some of the sites under consideration are:
--In Oregon, Steens Mountain and Soda Mountain.
--In Colorado, Canyon of the Ancients, an expansion of the Colorado National Monument and enlarging the Sand Dunes National Monument.
--In California, the Santa Rosa Mountains near Palm Springs and Carrizo Plain in the San Joaquin Valley near Santa Barbara.
--In Arizona, the Empire Ranch near Tucson.
--In Montana, an area along the Missouri River.
"Some of the property I am personally familiar with that he is looking at deserves the protection of monument status irrespective of the agency that manages it," said Tom Kiernan of the National Parks Conservation Association in Washington, D.C.
"I do have a fundamental concern that BLM doesn't now have the management policies and staffing and culture to manage these more sensitive lands. It is going to require scientific skills and staffing," Kiernan said.
Babbitt said there will have to be changes in the internal workings of the BLM as a result of the new system.
Babbitt said he hoped Congress will act on his suggestions, but President Clinton could declare the land monuments by proclamation.
In 1996, Clinton declared the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah as a national monument over local protests. Last month, he bestowed national monument status on land around the Grand Canyon.