Feds: Parks, monuments managed equally

Name change wouldn't affect management, officials insist

Visitors to Colorado National Monument stop at Cold Shivers Point for a look into Columbus Canyon.

Fears that the National Park Service would manage a national park differently than it would a national monument aren’t borne out in federal law.

Others outside the National Park Service, however, might view parks differently than monuments, though the differences often are a matter of perception, a Sentinel study of issues surrounding the monument proposal suggests.

Parks and monuments are treated equally in the legislation that founded the National Park Service, five years after Colorado National Monument itself was established by President Taft in 1911.

However, business organizations, a current congressman and a former congressman are urging caution about moving quickly in pursuit of national park status for the monument.

In the organic act establishing the National Park Service, Congress said it “shall promote and regulate the use of the federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations.”

Those parks, monuments, and reservations are to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” the 1916 act says.

“The laws are the same that govern the management of all units of the National Park Service system,” Colorado National Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo said.

“I know they say that,” said Diane Schwenke, Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer.

The chamber has raised questions about the possible change of designation to a park, despite the organization having supported the idea of a park since John Otto first came up with the idea and since Schwenke said in 1990 that the designation change was a high chamber priority.

The chamber, Schwenke said, is only taking a cautious route. In 1990, the Grand Valley economy was still reeling from the economic slowdown from the oil shale bust, grasping at any straw that might offer economic development.

Today, Schwenke said, the Grand Valley economy has grown and diversified, offering an opportunity to study park status thoroughly.

One of the major stumbling blocks to designating the 20,000-acre national monument overlooking the Grand Valley as a national park has been a fear that a national park would demand a correspondingly higher requirement for air quality.

While questioners such as former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and Fruita Mayor Ken Henry have suggested all national parks are Class I air-quality areas, that’s not the case.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., has suggested parks and monuments are administered differently and pointed to clean-air requirements.

The issue, Tipton’s spokesman said Thursday, was “not so much legalese as implementation” between parks and monuments.

McInnis said he is urging organizations such as the chamber, Club 20 and others to move with great caution, but he insisted he is no opponent of park status.

The passage of the Clean Air Act in 1977 placed all national parks at that time in Class I areas. Today, 49 of the 58 national parks in the United States are Class I air-quality areas. Among those that are not Class I areas are Congaree National Park in South Carolina, Death Valley National Park in California, Great Basin National Park in Nevada and new national parks in Alaska.  Even as a monument, Colorado National Monument’s continued status as a Class II area isn’t guaranteed.

Under current law, the state of Colorado “could change the monument’s status to a Class I area today (since it’s a national monument), and it could have made the monument a Class I area from 1977 to the present,” Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice in Denver, said in an email. “So, the monument, as it stands today, is already a ‘potential Class I area,’ (and) designation of the national park would not change that.”

Earthjustice was founded as the legal arm of the Sierra Club.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who last year kicked off talk of changing the monument’s designation, said earlier this year he is amenable to giving the Grand Valley a chance to craft any legislation he might offer.

Some supporters of a national park might feel conflicted about a measure to change the monument’s designation to a park while making permanent its present air-quality status, Zukoski suggested.

Any legislation that ties national park status to Class II air quality “would give a newly designated park less potential protection than the current national monument,” Zukoski said. “I’m not sure that’s what national park boosters have in mind.”

Stationary pollution sources, such as power plants or manufacturing facilities, can be held to more stringent emission standards if they threaten air quality in a Class I area, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that such projects couldn’t go forward, said Carl Daly, air permitting, monitoring and modeling unit manager for EPA Region 8 in Denver.

A clean, well-designed facility with state-of-the-art controls “could have minimal impact, and emissions could be low enough so that even if it was next door to a Class I area, it could still get a permit,” Daly said.

The EPA’s regional-haze program, would have little effect on Colorado National Monument or a park with the same boundaries, as it was drafted to ensure visibility only in the nation’s 156 Class I air-quality areas, Daly said.

Xcel Energy’s agreement to close Front Range coal-fired power plants is in part the result of the regional-haze program aimed at improving visibility in Rocky Mountain National Park.

McInnis insisted as well that changing the monument to a national park would have to be carefully vetted because federal officials would relegate local opinion to being merely advisory.

To be sure, any proposal to change a new national park from a Class II area to a Class I area would be preceded by notice and an opportunity for public input, Zukoski said.

The city of Fruita, which sits at the west end of the monument, has taken a position of qualified support, “pending further investigation,” according to Fruita’s mayor.

Some of the questions stem from “hearsay,” Henry conceded.

There also is the issue of light pollution and the extent to which the National Park Service could insist on keeping the Grand Valley in shadow to protect the night skies, McInnis and Henry said.

The National Park Service, however, has no mechanism to require darkening the cities below it, Anzelmo said.

Grand Junction and Mesa County already have zoning restrictions aimed at ensuring the darkness of the night sky, and those restrictions have nothing to do with the monument, Anzelmo said.

Anzelmo and supporters of the change have maintained that simply changing the designation of the existing monument to a park would change nothing but the name.

It would, however, do something else: eliminate the power of the president to act unilaterally on the area.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents can establish national monuments and adjust their boundaries without congressional approval.

It was frustration with Congress that resulted in appeals a century ago to Taft to establish Colorado National Monument.

In the late 1990s, fear that President Clinton was planning a unilateral expansion of Colorado National Monument sparked McInnis and others in the Grand Valley to action. The outcome was the establishment of the 75,000-acre Black Ridge Wilderness Area and 123,400-acre national conservation area that now bears McInnis’ name to the west of the monument.

As a national park, the boundaries of the unit would be set by Congress, Anzelmo and Schwenke said.

There is precedent for local concerns to be factored into legislation, as was done when Grand Teton National Monument in Wyoming was made a national park in 1950, Anzelmo said. Anzelmo worked at Grand Teton National Park before working in Washington, D.C., and eventually becoming superintendent of Colorado National Monument.

Fruita’s concern about its ability to make use of a waterline that runs through the monument, which it predates, can be accommodated in legislation, Anzelmo said.

Legislation, however, can be undone as easily as it can be enacted, Schwenke said, noting air quality isn’t the only issue on the minds of skeptics.

“We need some risk-benefit analysis,” Schwenke said.

Tourism didn’t increase as expected when the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Great Sand Dunes national monuments were converted to national park status, Schwenke said.

The opinions of tourism-promotion professionals should be solicited to see if there is reason to expect increases, Schwenke said.

“If you’re not going to get an impact on tourism, why do it?” Schwenke said of the change.

Much of the work that has been done in recent years on the monument has been geared to increase visitation, from rebuilding Rim Rock Drive to building 19 new waysides along the route and improving water and sewer systems at the visitor center.

“We know visitation would rise because of the engines of tourism” that would tout a new national park and the proximity to Interstate 70, Anzelmo said.

The Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau has come out in support of the designation change.

As it stands now, Tipton and Udall have sought out people to serve on a committee that would advise them on the potential change of designations for the monument.


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