Interior Secretary Suggests New National Monuments in 5 Areas

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- A 150-foot pillar of sandstone where Capt. William Clark carved his name in 1805 -- leaving the only archaeological evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition -- deserves to be protected as a national monument, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said yesterday.

The Pompeys Pillar monolith east of Billings, Mont., is one of five areas Babbitt recommended to President Clinton yesterday for preservation as national monuments. Another is a 149-mile stretch of the upper Missouri River in Montana, an area where the Lewis and Clark party became the first non-Indians to see bighorn sheep.

Also included are one of the last remaining swaths of pristine grassland in central California and two areas of coral reefs swarming with marine life in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"These natural landscapes are unique, historic American treasures," Babbitt said in a statement. "They need more care and protection than we are giving them now."

Monument designations would give greater protection to the five areas, which are already owned by the federal government. The new protections would likely include bans or restrictions on vehicle use, mining and oil drilling.

Clinton has already created 11 national monuments and expanded two, using a 1906 law to bring new restrictions to millions of acres, mostly in the West. The monuments are designed to be part of Clinton's environmental legacy, which also includes an order this month giving greater protection to 99,500 square nautical miles of coral reefs and other features off the coast of Hawaii.

Critics -- including President-elect Bush -- call Clinton's actions unnecessary and unilateral, though they acknowledge that overturning a monument designation in Congress is highly unlikely. …