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Proposed national monument: federal land grab, protection or feel-good folly?

Robert Mansell

Robert Mansell

As the chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, I have a strong desire for the public to know the position of the commission regarding our opposition to any designation of a national monument in the Grand Canyon watershed.  The department’s mission statement is clear:

“To conserve Arizona’s diverse wildlife resources and manage for safe, compatible outdoor recreation opportunities for current and future generations.”

Notice the words “to conserve,” “manage” and “for current and future generations.” They are heartfelt, straight-forward words by which the department’s hundreds of dedicated employees live and work each day.

They also are words that help to explain why the chairman of one of the nation’s premier wildlife conservation organizations strongly opposes the creation of the 1.7 million-acre Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.

The commission’s opposition is based on the negative impacts that such a designation is likely to have on wildlife management across this vast expanse in northern Arizona. The Center for Biological Diversity recently stated that this proposed area already is being effectively managed, thanks to cooperation by several state and federal agencies. The department completely agrees. A need to “fix” current management practices simply doesn’t exist.

The creation of the Sonoran Desert National Monument in 2001 is a cautionary tale. In 1999, the Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists counted 103 bighorn sheep in the Maricopa Mountains, located within the monument’s boundaries in southwest Arizona. Today’s surveys indicate fewer than 35 sheep roam this area.  The department’s limited access inside the monument to provide new and sustainable water sources no doubt was a contributing factor to the steep decline in the sheep population in the Maricopa Mountains. It was a harsh lesson that shouldn’t be repeated with any wildlife species anywhere else in Arizona.

Creating the Sonoran Desert National Monument additionally required the Bureau of Land Management to develop an overarching area management plan.  During a lengthy 11-year planning process, the Arizona Game and Fish Department experienced detrimental delays and prohibitions for many critical wildlife management actions. This experience with monuments is not one that lends optimism when considering the Grand Canyon watershed.

The costs that come with creating — and maintaining — a national monument may well prove to be prohibitive. The National Park Service published a report detailing that the Grand Canyon National Park already is suffering with $329 million in deferred maintenance, and yet some would like to add to that financial burden. The proposed watershed area spans 1.7 million acres, compared to Grand Canyon National Park’s 1.2 million acres, begging the question: If the federal government can’t operate and maintain a world class national park at 1.2 million acres, how can anyone argue that adding 1.7 million more acres to manage would have a positive impact?

Transparency – and the lack thereof – also is a major issue in this process.  Where are the opportunities to have input for Arizonans who will be directly impacted by a monument designation? The 1.7 million acres already being successfully managed will be subject to deferred management, budget shortages and increased bureaucracy. The department’s mission is to speak on behalf of the well-being of wildlife that doesn’t have a voice. Unfortunately, in this process, Arizonans also don’t have a voice. Arizonans deserve a transparent public process.

I respectfully submit that these 1.7 million acres continue to be responsibly managed under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service and BLM and not designated a national monument.

– Robert Mansell is chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.


  1. Az game and fish is only concerned about the number and well being of wildlife so someone else can go out and shoot them. Your reference to the bighorns in the Sonoran Desert NM does not illustrate poor management by the BLM. AZ Game and Fish was artificially boosting sheep numbers for hunters. At least NM status has let that area be for now as would NM status for the GC Watershed.

  2. The 9 Arizona Strip Wilderness Areas were supposed to be the final word in the negotiations between the environmental Lobby and the residents of Arizona who want this land managed for us and future generations. This was heralded as “the great compromise” and part of the AZ Wilderness Act of 1984 along with 24 other wilderness areas throughout the rest of Arizona. Then came the 20-year uranium moratorium of about 1 million acres. Now they want the rest of the area locked up. You know, without the minimal grazing that exists, the water sources developed for wildlife and cattle will fail for lack of maintenance. Since these same groups shut down logging (which already avoided old growth) the North Kaibab has experienced massive wildfires that have destroyed the scenic drive to the Grand Canyon, thousands of acres of previously protected old growth and wildlife nesting and foraging sites, and promote serious erosion.
    This massive land grab is just more payoff of our elected officials and a legacy of Eastern money buying the West and putting a feather in the president’s hat. Ann K. promised to stand with the ranchers, but now wants to stand on them. Nothing good can come from tying up these lands with ever more restrictions. No more fuelwood gathering, hunting, Christmas tree cutting, bird watching or family reunions as these groups shrink access to the major roads, supposedly to protect wildlife. If these lands had not been managed for the past century by caring professionals, it would now be a wasteland devoid of the wildlife that we enjoy today. The promises of the environmental groups have proven to be worthless and I can see no evidence that it will ever change. It is not about protecting the land and wildlife, it is for money and control (and in this case a lasting legacy of public lands– forever protected from the public.)

  3. @ huh : You have no business what so ever to place a comment since it so seems, according to your idiotic comment , you have fried your braincells . AZG&FD has the best Management plan that all other State Agencies should follow . I’m saying that as myself being from Utah and been a Utah Resident for 28 years. Without the Management coming from the AZG&FD and the 10’s of Millions contributed from Sportsman and Hunters , many Wildlife species wouldn’t exist today . Yourself and the other Anti Hunters or Activist’s , if any cared so much for “Our” Wildlife and Wildlife Habitat, put your $$ to work , rather than using your $$ to spend on Campaigning and protesting for ideas that don’t work .

  4. Valerie Morrill

    I just want to thank Commissioner Mansell for his commentary. I appreciate his position that the proposed designation may serve to do more harm than good. Current management is effective. The changes proposed would inadvertently confound the positives of current management such as the Four Forest Restoration Initiative and curtailment of invasive species. When one considers how designation would most likely be implemented, it is mired in either falling to the overwhelmed National Park Service or the nightmare of 2 agencies (Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service) in 2 separate departments (Interior and Agriculture) with significantly different missions and funding trying to come to consensus on joint management. Ack! As he shared, setbacks in the past should alarm us in the present and future regarding the proposal.
    Furthermore, valid concerns such as Uranium mining were once a cause for alarm. Through the moratorium, those concerns are postponed at least for the present decade or so; a monument designation isn’t imminently necessary to protect the mining ban, and it is the wrong tool to employ at this time.
    Thank you again for your commentary, Mr. Commissioner!

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