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Muddying The Waters Over Redesignating Colorado National Monument As A National Park

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Colorado National Monument, captured in one of its many moods by Marco Crupi, is caught in a tug-of-war over its future management.

Discussions in western Colorado to have Colorado National Monument redesignated as a "national park" have spawned a proposal, in the form of draft Senate legislation, that has drawn concerns from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Foremost, the document (attached) calls for creation of a "park advisory committee" that would advise the Interior secretary on how the renamed park would be managed. Among the members proposed to be on this committee would be a representative from the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

"The Secretary shall from time to time, but not less than annually, meet and consult with the Committee on policies and specific matters relating to the planning, administration, and development of the Park, including development of new policies and planning relating to the management of the Park," the document states.

In a letter sent to U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, on Friday, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees questioned the construction of that document.

The Coalition does not oppose redesignation of Colorado National Monument, writing that its nearly 1,000 members believe "that Colorado National Monument’s extraordinary resources and experiences are worthy of the additional national and international status that comes with the designation 'national park.'" 

However, the retirees noted that the draft document being circulated "omits essential provisions that would assure preservation and enjoyment of the park’s resources and values, while including other provisions that would undermine long-term management and protection and create more of a local park than a new unit of the National Park System."

As for the proposed advisory committee, the Coalition wrote that, "(T)he composition of this advisory committee, moreover, does not pass the 'red face test.'  It overwhelmingly represents local interests, some of which are not even park-related. Why should the Western Slope Oil and Gas Association have a representative on the park advisory committee?  With regard to a tribal representative, why doesn’t the committee include a representative from the Northern Ute Tribe, which is the most closely affiliated with the park?

"Most significantly, why would the advisory committee not include national experts on the resources, values, and management of the new national park, or representatives of any conservation organization dedicated to protecting the resources and values of the National Park System, or representatives of state or regional tourism organizations who understand that relevant part of the economy?"

Mike Saccone, Sen. Udall's communications director, did not know who crafted the document in its form, but said that its appearance should not be interpreted as draft legislation. The language contained in it, he said, are ideas that a local committee studying the redesignation proposal came up with and which are now out for public review and comment.

Mr. Saccone would not say whether the senator supported or opposed the proposed advisory committee.

Sen. Udall is up for re-election this year and is expected to face a stiff challenge. A poll released this past week showed him and his expected Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, essentially deadlocked in a poll of 1,298 registered Colorado voters taken April 15-21. (While the poll identified the economy and health care as the main issues affecting this matchup, their environmental positions could rise up, as the League of Conservation Voters has purchased a $1 million ad campaign to attack Rep. Gardner's record on the environment.)

Rep. Tipton, who earlier this month said he wouldn't draft legislation until after the current 90-day comment period runs its course, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Debate over how Colorado National Monument has been managed, and whether it should be redesignated as a national park, has been ongoing for several years in western Colorado. Criticism of Park Service management of the monument has festered in part over the agency's refusal, since 2010, to allow a professional bike race to be staged on the monument's 23-mile Rim Rock Drive.

It was about a year ago that the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association passed a resolution in support of renaming the monument a national park. That resolution was similar to one adopted earlier by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as one passed by the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. But in those resolutions the groups sought legislation to give community stakeholders veto power over any Park Service decisions on uses the agency finds are inappropriate for the monument...such as a professional bike race. 

In their letter to Sen. Udall and Rep. Tipton, the Retirees Coalition said the advisory committee as envisioned is intended to exert local control over the monument.

"It is clear that this committee is not designed or intended to help the new park fulfill its mission. In fact, the provision that details the types of issues on which the Secretary is required to consult with the committee—including “policies” and “administration…management”—demonstrates that the purpose of this committee is to inject as much local control as possible over this new national park," the group's letter said.

Additionally, the Coalition pointed out that nowhere in its current form does the document list the "essential provisions that would assure preservation and enjoyment of the park’s resources and values."

"Nowhere does the draft legislation recognize Colorado National Monument’s extraordinary resources, values, and experiences that provide the basis for national park designation," the letter noted. "The geology, paleontology, ecology, cultural and historic associations, and many other resources and values have been protected for over 100 years, providing visitors, scientists, students, and others unique opportunities to enjoy and learn from these outstanding park features.

"Nor does the draft legislation contain the requisite language to establish the new national park as a unit of the National Park System, and to abolish the national monument while incorporating it into, and making its funding available to, the new national park.

"Finally, the draft legislation fails to include the critical direction to the Secretary of the Interior to administer the national park in accordance with the enabling legislation and the laws generally applicable to units of the National Park System, including the National Park Service Organic Act."

And while the draft document would rename the monument as "Rim Rock Canyons National Park," the Coalition believes a more fitting name would be "Colorado Canyons National Park," the name envisioned for this place over 100 years ago.


I expect the reponses from regular contributors to this site will be pretty predictable - and that includes mine :-)

This proposal begs several questions: What makes any piece of pubic land a "national park"? Is it simply a name on a sign, a patch on an employee's uniform, and an indication of who funds the operation, or should that designation also indicate that policies which guide the management of the area may be different from a city or county-run park?

Is the application of policies to existing national parks always consistent, and are the best management decisions always made? Of course not, although what's the "best" decision is always subject to debate, colored by our individual interests and philosophies. The latest in a decades-long controversy about the management of parts of Yosemite National Park is a good example.

That said, I'm a lot more comfortable with the long-range protection of the special qualities of Colorado National Monument under NPS direction than under the control of local commercial interests, including an "oil and gas association."

I'd not be in favor of removing Colorado National Monument (or the same area  renamed area as a "national park") from the National Park System. However, any legislation that would "give community stakeholders veto power over any Park Service decisions..." should reflect what that really means, and thus should also include a requirement that the word "national" cannot be used as part of the name, and all federal funding for the area should end.

Perhaps the proposal described above represents the latest strategy by those who want existing national parks turned over to the states or local government, but with a new wrinkle: The locals get control of the area, but they get to keep using the "national park label" ... and feds keep paying the bills.

Nice work if yout can get it.

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