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Obama creates national monument -- with bipartisan support

National Trust for Historic Preservation

Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado on Friday became the 103rd national monument.

Getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything, especially when they're in campaign mode, isn't easy, but an ancient rock formation in southwest Colorado on Friday became an exception to the election rule.

Obama administration officials, joined by some Republicans, announced the creation of the Chimney Rock National Monument on a site that was home to the ancestors of Pueblo Indians 1,000 years ago. 

The move will preserve 4,726 acres of high desert at Chimney Rock, which holds spiritual significance for the Pueblo and other tribes. Some 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings are part of the area, many perched 1,000 feet above the Piedra River Valley.

The monument is the third created by the Obama administration, but it was the Republican congressman who represents the area, Rep. Scott Tipton, who first sponsored a monument bill.

It passed the House in May and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., proposed a similar bill, but partisan squabbling derailed it in the Senate.

Tipton, Bennet and others then lobbied President Barack Obama to use the 1906 Antiquities Act to create the monument, which had been a national historic site. The law gives a president the power to designate certain historic federal properties as monuments.

The lawmakers saw support from some local business owners who felt the designation would give tourists more reasons to visit the region. 

The designation "will preserve and protect the site and drive tourism, drawing more visitors to the region and the state and bringing more dollars," Bennet said in a statement.

A recent study found the designation would bring an extra $1.2 million to the local economy every year, Bennet said.

Ranchers in the area will maintain grazing rights, the Denver Post noted.

The monument is in the San Juan National Forest and surrounded by the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

Local tribes praised the move as well.

"The story of my tribe, the Pueblo of Acoma, and our history is intimately connected to Chimney Rock," Chandler Sanchez, chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council, said in a statement, the Durango Herald reported. "This place is still sacred to my people, and we are glad to see it will now be protected for our children and grandchildren."

Tipton praised the designation, noting that lawmakers had done much of the groundwork by contacting local communities for input.

"I'm a strong believer that this and all public lands designations be locally driven, and as such the preferred method to advance this designation would be through legislation developed with extensive community input, such as my bill," he said in a statement

Republicans have been wary of Democrats in the White House and their use of the Antiquities Act.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton angered many in Utah when he designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Many had hoped to tap the underground energy deposits there.

When Obama took office, some Western conservatives were suspicious he would go on a national monument-creating spree.

But Obama has so far designated two other national monuments:

  • The 14,000-acre Fort Ord National Monument on California's coast. 
  • Fort Monroe, a former Army base in Virginia that was a refuge for slaves during the Civil War. 

Chimney Rock becomes the 103rd national monument and will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The vast majority are managed by the Interior Department, but a few come under the jurisdiction of the Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Commerce.

National monuments are different from national parks in that they are created to preserve at least one nationally significant resource, so they are usually smaller and less diverse in wildlife, plant life and terrain. 

This article includes reporting by The Associated Press.

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