Clinton creates new National Monument and increases size of another ten-fold

President Clinton has declared Arizona’s Vermilion Cliffs a National Monument and increased the size of Idaho’s previously small Craters of the Moon National Monument to more than ten times its original size.

In total, Clinton signed proclamations protecting some 1,500 square miles (3,840 sq km) of the wildernesses on the recommendation of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit, to whom the President had entrusted the task of researching possible National Monuments. These actions on 9 November take the total amount of land in the lower 48 states declared as National Monuments under Clinton to some 7,200 square miles (18,430 sq km), more than any other US president.

Clinton described the remote and unspoiled Vermilion Cliffs in Northern Arizona as “a geological treasure”, containing “outstanding objects of scientific and historic interest”. The centrepieces of the monument are the Paria Plateau and the cliffs themselves, which rise 3,000 feet (1,000 metres) in a spectacular escarpment.

In the northwest portion of the monument lies Coyote Buttes, a geologically spectacular area where crossbeds of the Navajo Sandstone exhibit banding in hues of yellow, orange, pink, and red caused by the precipitation of manganese, iron, and other oxides.

The historical interest in the monument derives from having some of the earliest rock art in the Southwest and ancestral Pueblo Indian villages, some with intact standing walls, fieldhouses, trails, granaries, burials, and camps are to be found in the 460 square miles (1,180 sq km) of the monument.

The vegetation is a ‘unique’ combination of cold desert flora and warm desert grassland, and includes one threatened species, Welsh’s milkweed, known only in Utah and Arizona. “Desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lion, and other mammals roam the canyons and plateaux,” Clinton said, adding that endangered California condors have been reintroduced into the area too, taking the number of birds of prey species to more than 20.

President Clinton also used the 1906 Antiquities Act to expand the Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho, which was established in 1924, but until now had an area of just 85 square miles (218 sq km). Clinton increased the monument’s size, which he described as including “almost all the features of basaltic volcanism, including the craters, cones, lava flows, caves, and fissures of the 65-mile-long Great Rift, a geological feature that is comparable to the great rift zones of Iceland and Hawaii”, to over 1,000 square miles (2,600 sq km).

This lunar landscape “holds the most diverse and youngest part of the lava terrain that covers the southern Snake River Plain of Idaho”, a broad plain made up of innumerable basalt lava flows during the past five million years. A special feature of the monument is its kipucas – isolated islands of older terrain which were surrounded by new lava. “The kipukas represent some of the last nearly pristine and undisturbed vegetation in the Snake River Plain, including 700-year-old juniper trees and relict stands of sagebrush that are essential habitat for sensitive sage grouse populations,” Clinton said.

The entire area will be managed to protect the geological and other features for which the monument has been created, which a quarter of a million people visit annually.

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