Chimney Rock designation not welcomed by everybody

Chimney Rock’s designation Friday by President Barack Obama as a national monument drew immediate ire from some Republican critics, despite their previously stated support for the designation. Chimney Rock National monument contains just less than 4,800 acres of the 1.8-million-acre San Juan National Forest.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, issued a news release Friday condemning the White House’s declaration, using powers in the Antiquities Act, as “a face-saving action borne out of President Obama’s failure to provide leadership to get the Democratic-controlled Senate to start working on solutions to protect, improve and utilize our nations’ abundant natural resources and public lands.”

The criticism has apparently surprised most of the parties involved, including the business, community and political leaders who Friday called the national monument declaration a positive step toward improving tourism and commerce for the area, as well as a positive step toward protecting a special archeological and natural resource.

Hastings said in his statement that the House already had approved a bill to establish Chimney Rock National Monument, but blamed the Democratic-led Senate for failing to act. The chairman said the House had approved “dozens of bipartisan, locally supported bills that would solve problems, protect natural areas and boost economic development that are just sitting in the Senate awaiting action.”

In the statement, Hastings said that “major decisions on federal lands that can seriously affect local communities and economies should be made by those most affected and their local elected leaders.”

George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act within the last few weeks of his presidency to declare three national monuments.

The committee chairman also said, “Such decisions should not be made by unilateral orders from the president relying on an outdated law passed over a hundred years ago that should be reformed or repealed.”

However, the group Conservation Lands Foundation issued a news release Friday citing local business supporters of the declaration.

The Conservation Lands Foundation said the designation was supported by the Archuleta County Commissioners, the Durango and Pagosa Springs chambers of commerce, the pueblos that trace their ancestors to Chimney Rock and other Native American tribes and numerous elected officials at local, state and national levels, including Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, among others.

One such advocate was Mary Jo Coulehn, director of the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce.

It is a shame to politicize what has been a long-term bipartisan community effort to protect an incredibly important archeological site, Coulehn said in the Conservation Lands Foundation statement

“The local business community has long publicly supported designation of Chimney Rock — either by Congress or the president — and is grateful that this site has now received the recognition and designation it deserves,” she said. “It is a treasure in our community and deserves to be protected.”

Sen. Michael Bennett also released a statement Friday praising the designation. That statement also recognized Tipton for introducing a bill in the House supporting monument designation for Chimney Rock. That bill passed with bipartisan support.

Bennett introduced a similar bill in the Senate, but said in the news release issued Friday that it was blocked by a minority of senators.