Clinton announced his action Wednesday to establish the new monuments in Montana, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Idaho.
"We believe that our future and our land, air and water are one, that we must not only protect our historical treasures, but our natural treasures as well," the president said.
The sites include Pompeys Pillar near Billings, Mont., a 150-foot sandstone column where explorer William Clark carved his name in 1805 during his historic westward trek with Meriwether Lewis.
"Most of the landscape Lewis and Clark traversed nearly two centuries ago has changed beyond recognition: forests cut, prairies plowed, river dammed and cities built. That is the march of time," Clinton said. "Still there are a few wild places left, rugged reminders of our rich history and nature's enduring majesty. Because they are more important than ever, after careful review and extensive public input, we protect them today by establishing them as national monuments."
The Idaho site is Minidoka in the Magic Valley, which includes portions of a World War II-era Japanese-American internment camp. Along with 90 adjacent acres, the camp will be managed by the National Park Service as a unit of the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.
The announcement was made in the East Room of the White House where President Thomas Jefferson and Lewis laid out maps and planned the expedition. Clinton also signed a bill Wednesday that would posthumously promote Clark from Army lieutenant to captain and gave the honorary ranks of sergeant to the expedition's Shoshone interpreter Sacagawea and York, Clark's black servant.
"These actions commemorate and preserve a vital chapter in our nation's history," said Elliot Diringer, a White House spokesman. "They honor the explorers who led the way west and protect for future generations some of the extraordinary lands they crossed."
The other new monuments were: Upper Missouri River Breaks along the Missouri River in central Montana; Carrizo Plain in central California; Sonoran Desert in south-central Arizona; and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks in north-central New Mexico.
Designating these areas as national monuments afford them greater protections from commercial uses. The new protections are expected to include bans or restrictions on activities such as vehicle use, mining and oil drilling.
President-elect Bush and Republicans from the West have objected to Clinton's earlier monument designations. They have said monument status was not needed to protect the remote areas and could harm local economies.
"We are reviewing all eleventh-hour executive orders, rules and regulations by the Clinton administration and we will make decisions after President-elect Bush is sworn into office," Scott McClellan, a spokesman for Bush-Cheney transition team, said Tuesday night after learning about Clinton's expected action. "The president-elect believes in a balanced approach to our environment that is based on working closely with states and local communities."
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., was more direct.
"On a lot of this he (Clinton) will not use Congress," Burns told reporters. "What are we here for?"
Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said his group and other conservation organizations would fight any attempts in Congress to undo the new national monument designations.
The monuments are:
- Upper Missouri River Breaks, 377,000 acres along 149 miles of the river in north-central Montana, the only major portion of the Missouri River to be protected and preserved in its natural, free-flowing state. It also is the premier segment of the Lewi and Clark National Historic Trail.
- Pompeys Pillar, 51 acres along the Yellowstone River, 28 miles east of Billings, Mont. "Pompeys Pillar is like a sandstone history book," the White House said. "On July 25, 1806, Clark carved his name and date into the pillar's sandstone surface. The pillar also bears Native American drawings and other historical inscriptions." Clark originally named the rock after the nickname for the young son of their Shoshone interpreter, Sacagawea. In a separate action, Clinton is to award Sacagawea and a man known as York, Clark's black servant on the expedition, with the titles of honorary sergeant in the Army.
- Carrizo Plain, 204,000 acres of rolling grasslands between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield, Calif. The area is home to wildlife, including several endangered species, American Indian sacred sites and a portion of the San Andreas Fault.
- Sonoran Desert, an example of untrammeled Sonoran Desert landscape 60 miles from Phoenix. The 486,000 acres encompass a desert ecosystem, mountain ranges separated by wide valleys and a large saguaro cactus forest.
- Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, light-colored cone-shaped tent rock formations in north-central New Mexico near Santa Fe that are the products of explosive volcanic eruptions that occurred between 6 million and 7 million years ago.
By DEB RIECHMANN
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