KINGMAN - Mohave County and Arizona could be facing a new fight with the federal government over land in the near future.
Four organizations - The Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, the Wilderness Society Western Lands, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity - are pushing for President Barack Obama to propose a new 1.7 million acre national monument surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park.
According to maps of the proposal, the proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument would take up most of the Kaibab National Forest north and south of Grand Canyon National Park. That includes a large section of land in the Arizona Strip, north of the Grand Canyon, between Grand-Canyon Parashant and Vermillion Cliffs national monuments.
The organizations submitted the proposal to the St. George, Utah Bureau of Land Management Office earlier this month. The proposal states that turning the area into a national monument would protect old-growth forests, endangered species, and important water, archeological and natural resources. It would also create a wildlife conduit between the national monuments and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It would protect the area from damage from overgrazing and prevent new mining claims, as well.
The proposal would still allow people to hike, observe wildlife, hunt, fish and conduct a number of other activities.
Typically, federal land can only be removed from grazing, mineral and other public uses by an act of Congress. However, Obama could follow President Bill Clinton's example and use the Antiquities Act to circumvent Congress and create a national monument. Clinton used the act to create Grand Staircase Escalante and Grand Canyon-Parashant as well as other national monuments in the 1990s.
According to the Associated Press, the proposal has a number of people and groups up in arms.
The Arizona Cattleman's Association opposes it saying it will close off land to one of the few remaining industries in the area, ranching.
According to the proposal, the new monument would not allow new ranching permits and would ask current ranchers to voluntarily give up their permits.
The Friends of the Ari zona Strip, a non-profit organization made up of residents and friends of the area, also oppose the idea. The group's website says the proposal will not only close land to new mining, grazing and logging, but it will re-introduce wolves and grizzly bears to the area.
The proposal does not specifically state that bears and wolves would be re-introduced to the area, but that declaring the area a national monument may encourage such animals to move back into the area.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, have already voiced their strong opposition to the proposal, according to the Deseret News.
Mohave County Supervisors could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but the Board of Supervisors as well as state officials soundly denounced the Obama Administration's and the U.S. Interior Department's decision to remove more than 1 million acres, including several thousand acres in Mohave County, from new hard-rock mining claims earlier this year. The government withdrew the land from new mining claims to protect the natural beauty of the area, its historical sites and water sources such as the Colorado River.
The county and Quaterra Alaska teamed up to file a lawsuit against the department, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the Bureau of Land Management and BLM Director Robert Abbey a few weeks ago.
The company says it has invested more than $12 million, approximately 30 percent of the company's total exploration expenditures for North America, in the area.
Quaterra claims that the Bureau of Land Management, which was responsible for the report that led to the removal of land, did not follow federal guidelines when creating its report. The report itself contradicts the department's reasons for withdrawing the land, according to the company.
The lawsuit states that the government also ignored science and facts and deprived the county, as well as Arizona, of "tens of millions of dollars in revenue and jobs, further inhibiting the state and local government efforts to recover from the worst economic recession in 80 years."
Supporters of the mining ban say that such claims are false, and the damage to tourism jobs from uranium mining is a greater threat to the state's economy.