ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Commission passed a resolution at its regular meeting Tuesday opposing the creation of a proposed 1.7-million-acre national monument on the Arizona Strip.
The resolution cites concerns over the loss of multiple uses on public lands, without public input, in an area directly south of Washington County.
The Arizona Strip is located in northern Arizona and runs from the Grand Canyon to the Utah border.
The proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument would include lands on the Arizona Strip as well as the North Kaibab and Tusayan Ranger Districts of the Kaibab National Forest.
Once designated a national monument, these lands would be subject to all the federal restrictions associated with that designation.
“Agree or disagree on national monuments, no matter where your politics are on national monuments, it’s a very poor way of managing public lands,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said. “It takes away people’s rights to have input and creates kind of an unmanageable situation.”
Ranchers have spoken out against the designation, saying even though grazing can continue after land is designated a national monument, the accompanying restrictions and regulations make ranching as a business difficult, if not impossible.
“I strongly, strongly disagree with it,” Iverson said.
Environmentalists have the idea that any problems can be solved with a monument designation, but that’s not true, he said.
“I don’t believe that no management is good management,” Iverson said. “I don’t believe that just locking land up is a good way to manage it. It actually is a very bad way to manage it.”
If federal land management agencies don’t have the power to go out and see the problems and deal with them, Iverson said, then the land gets neglected.
The Arizona Strip needs active management for issues such as wildland fire and pinyon and juniper encroachment to maintain a healthy range, Iverson said.
He added proponents of the monument claim none of the historical uses will be impacted.
“But that’s what they told us when they declared the Grand Staircase,” Iverson said, “and at this very moment we’re having this huge discussion over grazing on the monument, even though on the proclamation, Clinton said that grazing would be preserved.”
Part of the reason environmental groups are pushing the monument designation is to ensure there is no uranium mining on the Arizona Strip, to prevent possible pollution of the Colorado River, Iverson said.
In January 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar halted new mining claims for a 20-year period on over 1 million acres of the Arizona Strip, according to a Department of the Interior press statement. The statement cites concerns over impacts to the Grand Canyon and its watershed from the potential adverse effects of additional uranium and other mining.
The Arizona Strip contains some of the highest quality uranium in the United States, Commissioner Alan Gardner said. The uranium is located in small pockets, which are easily mined with no environmental impacts at all, he said.
“The footprint of the mines are 20 acres maximum; they’re literally shafts that go down in,” Iverson said. “There’s almost no water involved in the mining process, except a little bit of surface water to keep the dust down.”
The mines are very containable, are easy to reclaim and are only mined for five or 10 years, Iverson said. Uranium is naturally occurring, and there is decomposing uranium ore down in the Grand Canyon, he said, adding there’s no evidence that mines on the Arizona Strip are causing any pollution in the Grand Canyon.
“We feel like it’s a typical power grab,” Iverson said. “I hate to call it a land grab; it’s really kind of power grab, is what it is.”
Iverson said he has family roots on the Arizona Strip.
“It’s a beautiful landscape. We care about it. We’ve been taking care of it,” he said. “To be honest, I think the BLM has done a good job, overall.”
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