Conservation groups are suing to overturn Bush-era management plans that allow destructive use of Arizona's Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs national monuments. Filed today in U.S. District Court in Arizona, the lawsuit demands that the Bureau of Land Management comply with the proclamations creating the monuments by rewriting the plans to protect the monuments' historical and cultural resources and natural landscapes.
Represented by Earthjustice, the parties in the lawsuit include The Wilderness Society, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, the Sierra Club, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.
"Simply stated, the BLM's plans contradict the proclamations that established these monuments," said Nada Culver of The Wilderness Society. "The Obama administration now has the opportunity to protect these treasures. As written, the management plans would be a disaster for these national monuments and for the Arizona Strip."
Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs national monuments are both on the Arizona Strip, one of the Southwest's most remote areas, where some of the region's most significant archaeological sites lay nearly untouched.
"These places are unparalleled in Arizona and the west, and our wilderness inventory highlights their biological and cultural significance," said Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, Executive Director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. "Lawsuits are usually our last resort as an organization, but the BLM didn't uphold their responsibility to protect these monuments for the American people."
According to the lawsuit, the plans contradict the proclamations creating them by ignoring the impacts of wildlife habitat fragmentation and increased off-road vehicle use caused by more than 1,700 newly-designated routes across the Arizona Strip. The plans could lead to vandalism of cultural resources, ecosystem degradation and encroachment on lands proposed for wilderness designation by the Arizona Wilderness Coalition.
"The shortcomings of these Arizona Strip plans are similar to those that we've seen at other national monuments, including Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana," said Ti Hays, counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Each of these places is extraordinarily rich in cultural and natural resources. If we want future generations of Americans to have an opportunity to experience and learn from them, it is critical that that they are appropriately protected."
"These National Monuments were set aside to protect irreplaceable cultural resources and wildlife," said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice. "By authorizing ORVs to criss-cross these remote lands, BLM is ensuring the destruction of these values, rather than their protection."
"BLM national monuments are meant to honor the agency's commitment to a higher standard of protection for some of the West's most outstanding natural areas," said Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club. "There are abundant opportunities for recreation in these places without destroying their integrity or the experience of other users -- unfortunately, these plans do not find this balance."