Grijalva bolsters effort to protect tribal sites

Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva is ramping up efforts to persuade colleagues to protect an 84,000-acre expanse of sensitive lands in his home state that proponents say includes the Southwest's most important cultural sites.

Grijalva, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, in June introduced H.R. 5556 to establish a national monument protecting lands 30 miles southwest of Phoenix.

The Bureau of Land Management has designated the area as being of critical environmental concern (E&E Daily, June 23). BLM would manage the new monument under its National Landscape Conservation System.

On Monday, Grijalva plans to join members of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona at a ceremony in Phoenix to unveil an ethnography report connecting the proposed monument site along the banks of southern Arizona's Gila River to at least 13 Native American tribes.

Backers say the proposed Great Bend of the Gila National Monument is necessary to protect the Native American sacred sites, petroglyphs and rock art that are increasingly at risk of vandalism and looting. Proponents point to sensitive areas like Sears Point, a world-class ancient rock art site.

But Grijalva's push to establish the national monument comes at a time when GOP leaders in Congress have staunchly opposed new federal land designations. They have been particularly angered by President Obama's use of the Antiquities Act to bypass Congress and establish 25 national monuments.

The president yesterday formally designated 87,500 acres of forests and streams in central Maine as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Greenwire, Aug. 24).

The designation drew howls of protest from Republicans, who accuse the Obama administration of ignoring opposition to the designation.

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said in a statement yesterday that "if the President cared about local voices and improving our National Park System, he would have done this through the public process and not behind closed doors."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week that Obama must use the Antiquities Act because GOP congressional leaders "hate public lands. They have done everything they can to destroy our ability to protect public lands." Reid was speaking at a ceremony promoting efforts to protect a section of the Gold Butte region in Nevada.

Grijalva will be joined at Monday's event by representatives of Archaeology Southwest, a Tucson, Ariz.-based nonprofit that works to protect sensitive lands in the Southwest and is supporting H.R. 5556.

Archaeology Southwest and partners like the National Trust for Historic Preservation have lauded the Great Bend of the Gila as among BLM's most important cultural sites.

It includes the archaeological remains of ancestral Hohokam and Patayan cultures, as well as three historic trails.

Grijalva's bill would require the lands to be managed to "maintain the undeveloped character" and to "protect and restore cultural resources, species and ecosystems."

Grazing, hunting and tribal access would be preserved within the monument, but new mining, mineral and renewable energy development would be banned.

The bill would establish an advisory council of tribal representatives, commercial users, advocacy groups, local elected officials and state agencies to advise BLM.

Click here to view a map of the proposed monument.

By:  Scott Streater
Source: E&E Daily