Browns Canyon Monument Designation Greeted by Glee and Grousing

The campaign to seek national monument designation status for a rugged stretch of canyons, meadows and forests between Buena Vista and Salida, which recently shifted from a long-running battle in Congress to a call for executive action, is about to pay off. President Barack Obama is expected to announce this week that close to 22,000 acres of central Colorado will now be known as the Browns Canyon National Monument, the eighth such wonder to receive monument status in the state. 

The move is a cause for celebration among fishing and whitewater rafting enthusiasts, outfitters, hikers and environmentalists, some of whom have been pushing for federal action for decades in order to promote tourism while protecting the area from mining interests and other development threats. “This is a great day for Colorado and for sportsmen,” said Tim Brass, Southern Rockies coordinator for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, in a prepared statement. “Browns Canyon is the gold standard for backcountry hunting and fishing habitat." 

But the announcement has also generated some grousing from the Republican side of the Colorado congressional delegation, which often has different notions about wilderness protection and the best use of "public" lands than their Democrat counterparts. In the case of Browns Canyon, much of the fretting seems to be about whether "King Barack" (way to go, Ken Buck) should be meddling when legislation stalls and whether grazing rights will be adequately preserved.

Newly minted Senator Cory Gardner, who replaced the guy who pushed hardest for the monument designation, issued a delicately worded vow to curb all this imperial land-grubbin': “Browns Canyon is a national treasure with a long history of bipartisan support in Colorado. Senator [Mark] Udall in particular was a champion of this beautiful site, and his legacy of protecting Colorado’s landscapes is to be commended. This monument will stand in lasting tribute to his public service. My preference is always to work through the legislative process, and in the coming days I will be introducing legislation to ensure that Colorado’s state and local interests have a seat at the table in discussions about Browns Canyon.”

Where is James G. Watt when you need him? Of the nation's hundred-plus national monuments, it's instructive to consider that two presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter,  are responsible for almost a third of them. Only three presidents have failed to designate any national monuments since the program began under Teddy Roosevelt, and they happen to be three of the last five Republican commanders in chief: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. 

Like Senator Gardner, those guys preferred to work — or not work — through the legislative process. 
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast