- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said yesterday he is eyeing two new areas for national monument designation, despite heavy criticism from lawmakers who say the administration is ignoring local opposition to the proposals.

Mr. Babbitt said "at the top of the list" for new monument recommendations to President Clinton are the ecologically diverse Soda Mountain in Oregon and 165,000 acres containing Indian ruins in southwest Colorado.

Mr. Babbitt said both were "ripe for consideration" to become the fifth and sixth monuments created by Mr. Clinton this year. He did not say when he would forward his proposals to the White House.

Recreation such as hiking and horseback riding would be allowed, but off-road vehicles like dirt bikes and snowmobiles would be restricted and logging and mining banned.

The administration's use of its power to create new monuments has been harshly criticized by Republicans and at least one Democrat, Rep. Cal Dooley, whose California district encompasses part of the Sequoia National Forest Mr. Clinton recently announced.

Mr. Dooley said he was "deeply disappointed" the Clinton administration ignored strong opposition by local residents. He said monument designations restrict recreation and development and are intended to bolster Mr. Clinton's environmental legacy and improve Vice President Al Gore's support among environmentalists.

Local officials in Oregon and Colorado also question whether monument status is needed to protect those areas.

"It could eliminate all of the multiple uses grazing, timber harvest, recreational vehicles anything but hiking," said Sue Kupillas, a county commissioner who lives near Soda Mountain. "If this area is so valuable today, and we've had multiple use all these years, why should we change it now?"

Oregon legislators were concerned that an ongoing public process to protect Soda Mountain might be interrupted by a sudden decision to designate the area as a monument.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, said he was disappointed to hear the administration may be short-circuiting the public process.

"The senator would like to say he's surprised by this, but he's honestly not," said spokeswoman Mary Healy. "This is just Clinton trying to leave a legacy, and unfortunately Oregon is ground zero."

Colorado officials, who have been discussing how to protect ancient Indian ruins in the southwest corner of the state, had been alerted that the administration might designate the area as a national monument.

"I hope that Babbitt will consider [that] a lot of people depend on multiple use of this land," said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican.

Mr. Clinton has created five monuments and expanded another Pinnacles National Monument in California since he first took office by using the Antiquities Act of 1906. The law gives presidents emergency authority to protect threatened federal lands or "objects of historic and scientific interest."

Mr. Clinton has set aside more than 3 million acres as national monuments, more than any president in history.

He created the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah in 1996; Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Agua Fria in Arizona, and the California Coastal monument in January; and most recently, a 328,000-acre national monument in California's Sequoia National Forest.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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