Letter to the Editor: Tell it Straight
There was so much misinformation and so many misleading statements in Commissioner Randy Johnson's long interview in the July 9 edition of the Emery County Progress that I hardly know where to begin in trying to straighten them out. Let me just pick out a few of the most important ones and give readers the straight story.
The most fundamental and important thing that needs to be corrected is what could happen to this monument in the future under a different and more liberal and green president. Commissioner Johnson and other monument supporters talk a lot about all the safeguards for our rights that are supposedly going to be built into his monument proposal. He claims that it will, in effect, "do the same basic thing that we tried to do with the national conservation area that Congress failed to pass."
He goes on to make the incredible claim that, in the future, "Even if we have an environmental president, changing what the previous president did is not going to happen. Maybe there might be a different focus by the BLM on where it's going and our member on the management team would have input on that."
How can he guarantee that? If he can't back up that assertion with some pretty persuasive evidence, then we have no protections at all. Zero. Zip. Nada. The burden of proof is on him, because the facts and history suggest otherwise. The facts are that he cannot back it up because there is no limitation on what future presidents can do to change what President Bush might do in his proclamation.
Don't think it can't happen? Craters of the Moon National Monument offers some good lessons in this respect. This 54,000 acre monument was established in 1926. Over the next 74 years, its boundaries were adjusted four times by presidential proclamations. Then in 2000, just a couple of days after the presidential elections, Clinton issued a new proclamation expanding the boundaries by 661,000 acres. With just the stroke of a pen he expanded it more than 12 times.
Commissioner Johnson, what is there to prevent a future president from adding hundreds of thousands of acres to the monument you are proposing? Give us any persuasive evidence you have.
The problem is even worse than simply expanding the size. Each time Craters of the Moon was expanded, it was done by a new proclamation, which, legally, could have superseded all of the ones issued by previous presidents. That means a future president could totally eliminate the management team on which Commissioner Johnson pins so much faith. What would prevent him from doing that, Commissioner? And give us specifics.
Again, President Clinton's expansion of Craters of the Moon gives us an example of the problem. In his proclamation, Clinton gave the Park Service joint jurisdiction over the lands added to the monument, land that had been managed by the BLM. What would prevent a new proclamation from assigning joint or complete administration of the San Rafael Monument to the Park Service? If you think there are problems dealing with the BLM, just talk to folks who have to deal with the Park Service, an agency that is totally hostile to multiple use management, and it will make you feel a little better. What would stop a future president from turning management over to the Park Service. Again, Commissioner Johnson, please be specific.
Part of the problem Clinton created by giving the Park Service joint control of the new land added at Craters of the Moon involved hunting. The Park Service is hostile to hunting, one of the multiple uses we now enjoy on the Swell, and does not allow hunting on lands it administers unless Congress specifically designates it as a use. As a result of Clinton's actions, Congress is being forced to enact legislation, H. R. 601, to protect hunting on the 661,000 acres Clinton added. This bill has passed the House and is expected to pass the Senate in the next few weeks. Can Commissioner Johnson guarantee that a future congress would clean up any problems a green president would create in expanding a San Rafael Monument? Let's see it.
The commissioner argues that creation of a monument would result in more local control of the San Rafael and asserts that we have no control now. He is wrong again. We have the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which among other things, requires that the lands in the Swell be generally managed for multiple uses. One other element of control FLPMA gives us is that it requires in Section 202 that these federal management plans comply with local and state management plans and goals to the maximum extent possible. That's in law, not something that can be erased at the whim of some future green president as in the case with a presidentially-designated monument.
Given this total lack of control over what might happen under a future green and liberal president, people with much more experience and understanding than Commissioner Johnson, or anyone else in county government, are amazed and appalled that anyone who professes to support access and multiple use management would advocate a presidentially-designated monument. The commissioner's apparent lack of understanding of the leverage the county could have through FLPMA, as well as not realizing the problems of his proposed monument, may go a long way towards explaining why the county has had so many problems dealing with the BLM on these lands issues.
I must add here, as we will at every opportunity until the election, that as Congressman Cannon has repeatedly pointed out, what the commissioner, the governor and all those supporting a monument of anywhere near 600,000 acres are asking the president to designate is every bit as illegal as what Clinton did in declaring the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The Antiquities Act only allows presidents to reserve land as part of a national monument which "in all cases shall be the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the (historic and scientific) objects to be protected."
Those advocating that President Bush break the law do something far more damaging than undermine the rule of law and respect for the law that I and most Americans think is vital, and which is clearly our only protection from government excesses. They surrender the moral high ground that might make a future Congress sympathetic to helping overturn any disasters created by a future green and liberal president. Since the monument advocates will have become, in effect, willing and knowing accomplices in an illegal act, Congress is most likely to say, "you made your bed asking for a presidentially-declared monument, now lie in it!" Tell us, Commissioner Johnson, why that is not a likely scenario and again please be specific.
Another point that must be clarified is the effect creating the monument will have on the wilderness fight. Commissioner Johnson says, "We think the best way to fight the environmentalists is to come with better ideas: something besides wilderness." Are the enviros going to quit fighting for their wilderness bill, commissioner? Give us some evidence. In the last Congress, they had 168 co-sponsors of their wilderness bill in the House, just 50 votes short of having absolute majority. Which of those co-sponsors will not keep con-sponsoring that bill if a monument is designated?
When the commissioner can get a signed agreement that, if the monument he advocates is designated, the 200 groups in the Utah Wilderness Coalition will cut out of their bill the areas they are demanding in the Swell, then maybe it makes sense to talk about the monument as an alternative to wilderness. Until then, to talk about the monument being a way to deal with the wilderness problem is, to be charitable, wishful thinking at best.
Oh, and by the way, there are wilderness areas designated with monuments. To take the same example, of the original 54,000 acre Craters of the Moon Monument, 43,000 were designated wilderness.
Commissioner Johnson makes another statement which I find so incredible that I am almost sure it must be a misquote. Talking about roads and access, he said, "The Bureau of Land Management will define what is open with or without a monument." They darn well won't if the roads in question are our RS 2477 roads and- and this is a big and- if we have county commissioners who will fight for our roads. The BLM has no - repeat, no authority to close an RS 2477 road. I won't go into detail why, but I do call on the commissioner to clarify immediately if this is his position on roads or he was misquoted. If he wasn't, then we need to begin a whole new education process.
These are only some of the problems with Commissioner Johnson's statements in the article. His tone, the misinformation and apparent lack of understanding of even basic aspects of law and the county's rights makes me wonder if the county can be trusted to give the voters the facts as he says he wants to do. I am particularly concerned about the 'voter information booklet' that the commissioner says the county will send to all voters before the election. Based on Commissioner Johnson's statements, it is clear that we cannot trust the county to accurately or adequately represent the view and concerns of those of us who understand this monument proposal could be a bad, bad idea.
That's why I will be formally requesting that we be allowed to write the part of that booklet that educates voters about the problems with the monument. If the commission will not agree to that, then the voters need to know their reasoning in detail. I plan to make a formal request to let us do our side of the booklet in the next few days.
I guess the bottom line for me is that it is a shame that the Commission and the Governor cooked up this monument idea in secret and then sprang it on us without time to fully understand it, much less discuss it, before it was sent to Washington. We should have had extensive discussions on the topic here in the county before others got involved.
Commissioner Johnson and the other commissioners clearly feel that they did not have the responsibility as elected officials to do us this courtesy before the proposal went to Salt Lake, much less to Washington. But they should have at least done it as good neighbors.