WASHINGTON – A proposal to designate the Chimney Rock archeological area in southwestern Colorado as a national monument is picking up steam in Congress.
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) said Republican House leaders told him Thursday afternoon they plan to schedule a full House vote on his legislation, possibly as early as next week. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the bill, H.R. 2621, late last month.
“We don’t sense any opposition,” Tipton said in an interview Thursday. “It’s a good bill. Local folks are on board with it. Ranchers are onboard with it. And hopefully, it will create a few jobs for a hard-stricken area.”
The Chimney Rock National Monument Establishment Act would elevate the status of the 4,100-acre area in Archuleta County. If the bill is signed into law, the area would be the 102nd national monument. Of those four are in Colorado, including the Canyons of the Ancients and Yucca House, both of which are in southwestern Colorado.
Like those two national monuments, Chimney Rock is an Ancestral Puebloan archeological site which affords archeologists the opportunity to study the tribe’s buildings and ceremonies. It also has the twin rock spires that the moon passes through every 18.6 years.
“Chimney Rock is considered by many to be the most significant cultural site managed by the Forest Service nationwide, yet it lacks a designation equal to that stature,” Tipton and Colorado’s two Democratic senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, wrote in a statement last month.
Yet previous attempts to designate national monuments have sometimes met resistance from Colorado residents.
In 2007, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) sponsored legislation to designate Pike’s Peak in his central- and western Colorado district as a national monument. Drivers, riders, and hikers objected to the proposal and helped kill it.
Proposals to elevate Chimney Rock’s status have met similar fates.
Tipton’s predecessor, Democratic Rep. John Salazar, was unable to get his proposal out of committee in 2010.
Supporters of the proposal believe that communicating and coordinating with local residents will help their efforts succeed this time around.
Tipton and Sen. Bennet will join two U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, Undersecretary Harris Sherman and Forest Service Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Dan Jirón, at a community meeting scheduled for Friday afternoon in Pagosa Springs.
Members of the audience will be allowed to ask questions and offer suggestions about the proposal, according to a Tipton and Bennet press release.
In addition, supporters pointed to an April 19 letter that Ross Aragon, mayor of Pagosa Springs, wrote to President Obama indicating his support for the legislation.
Bennet and Sen. Udall have sponsored of the companion version of the Senate. They are working on a vote in the Senate, according to Bennet’s communications director Adam Bozzi.
If Congress is unable to approve a bill, supporters have lobbied President Obama to use The Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that enables the President to unilaterally designate a national monument.
“We believe new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities,” said White House spokesperson Caroline Hughes, “The conservation efforts we have under way – from protecting the ranching traditions in the Dakota grasslands to conserving the wildlife habitat that draws hunters to Montana – have strong local backing and help support the millions of jobs that come from hunting, fishing, ranching, and tourism across the country.”