Bush's Monumental Test

The environment received little attention in President Bush's State of the Union speech. But the president, doubtless, would like to be remembered for more than proposing oil drilling in the Arctic.

Hence the administration's warm greeting for an idea from Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Republican, to create a national monument in his state. That designation is given to areas of such natural or historical significance that they deserve preservation.

But wait a minute. Wasn't it Bill Clinton's creation of national monuments in the West that incensed Governor Leavitt and others in the region?

The governor emphasizes that his proposal is different. It would use the same federal antiquities law to have the president designate the monument. But this initiative is coming from the state, versus being imposed from Washington. It has been shaped with local input, which is why Bush's Interior Department embraces it.

The land in question is 620,000 acres of canyons known as the San Rafael Swells. It long has been a candidate for protection. As the project moves ahead, it will say a lot about Bush's environmental sensitivities.

The hottest issue involves access to the area by off-road vehicles, which usually are banned from national monuments. Their owners are part of the local input. Will the plan include a compromise where off-roaders are strictly limited to marked trails?

Is there flexibility in marking the monument's borders? Environmentalists want additional land in order to better protect the Swells. And will local conservationists also have a voice in the management plan?

The Interior Department now has an opportunity to create a national monument the right way.

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