Gannett News Service
Gannett News Service
ABOVE MOHAVE COUNTY – Remote, rugged and nearly uninhabited, the northwestern corner of Arizona is a remnant of the West as it once was. President Clinton hopes to ensure the land stays that way forever.
As early as tomorrow, Clinton is expected to proclaim a million acres of this landscape the new Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. It’s a step that will sharply divide the people who love this wild country.
Environmentalists such as Kim Crumbo are delighted by the impending announcement. Crumbo, who has lived in northern Arizona for 30 years as a river guide, park ranger and environmentalist, thinks the monument designation will save the land. ”A wonderful move,” he said happily.
But local ranchers, including Tony Heaton, are in despair. They foresee trouble, and perhaps an end to their way of life. ”It seems we’re becoming an endangered species,” Heaton said.
It takes determination and a lot of driving on bad dirt roads to get to the plateaus and cliffs that are expected to be part of the designated new monument. But that won’t keep tourists from flooding here, as they did to southern Utah after the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was declared there in 1996.
Visitors to the Arizona wilds find an unforgiving landscape of rust- and ivory-striped ridges, high plateaus forested with pinyon trees, and deep, twisting canyons. In the summer, the western edge of the area can see temperatures in the 90s; in the winter, the higher elevations are snowy and bitterly cold. A few small springs offer the only year-round water source.
Standing in the pinyon-dotted valley that shelters the buildings of the Bar Ten Ranch, Heaton gestures toward the dun-colored hills to either side. ”To us, it’s great, just the best place on Earth,” he said.
Heaton’s grandfather, an orphan, came here in the late 19th century and became a millionaire selling cattle and mustangs. But cattle ranching is no longer the source of wealth that it used to be. Nowadays, Heaton earns much of his income feeding and housing tourists who visit the ranch after they’ve boated down the Colorado River.
Although he doesn’t make much money on cattle, Heaton continues the work because it’s part of his heritage and a chance to work outdoors with his family. But he worries that his way of life could not survive a new monument, which would virtually surround his ranch. A monument, he argues, would exploit the land, not preserve it. ”With the public coming in, they’re not going to stay on the roads,” he predicted. ”They’ll cut gates. They’ll leave trash. There’ll be competition for water.”
His biggest concern, he says, is the grass. Roughly 90 percent of the pasture his cattle graze is on public land. Officials have said that ranchers probably would be allowed to graze their herds on the monument lands. But Heaton is skeptical. Once ranching is no longer viable, he said, his neighbors will start to sell their land.
”Most of the ranchers are descendants of the early settlers,” he said. ”There aren’t a lot of newcomers because people don’t sell their land. This monument might force that to happen.”
Environmentalists say they have sympathy for the ranchers. But they also say ranching can bring problems.
Crumbo, who works for the Flagstaff-based Southwest Forest Alliance, has hiked through and flown all over this land. Compared to the Grand Staircase park in Utah, the Grand Canyon-Parashant ”is more austere, more forbidding to get into,” Crumbo said.
Flying over a high plain known as the Shivwits Plateau, Crumbo points out of the Cessna’s window to a vast, empty square in the middle of the thick pinyon forest. It was scraped clear by ”chaining” – dragging a heavy chain between two bulldozers – so more grass could grow for cows.
The growth of St. George, Utah, a booming resort and retirement community, also threatens the land, Crumbo says.
The land that would make up the monument is already owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Crumbo argues that federal ownership alone isn’t enough.
Monument status would ”force the BLM to say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to protect.’ ”
Crumbo believes that one thing will probably change if the expected monument is established. That is cattle grazing ”These guys are hanging on by their teeth,” he said.
MAP: Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
Source: Bureau of Land Management/USA TODAY/Tucson Citizen