Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Designation

The creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) was a process that was done behind closed doors, therefore there is little information available on the thoughts and processes that went on in creating the Monument before it was officially announced to the public on September 18, 1996. The only record that has been located starts just nine days before the Monument was announced, this comes from a speech by Governor Leavitt recounting his involvement in the designation of GSENM.

The first anyone heard about the Monument was on September 9, 1996 in an article in the Washington Post saying that there was going to be a new national monument announced in the near future. Governor Leavitt placed a call to the Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt; Babbitt said that the Department of the Interior (DOI) was not involved and that he should call the White House. When Governor Leavitt called the White House he spoke to the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Marsha Hales, who said she had seen the story but did not know anything about it, and would get back to the Governor on how serious the proposal was.

On September 11, 1996 Governor Leavitt heard back from Hales, where she reported that the “Monument was being discussed but ‘no decision had been made.’” Governor Leavitt asked for a meeting with either the President or his Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, which was confirmed for the next week. On September 13, 1996 the Governor’s office learned that a major environmental announcement was going to be made by President Clinton at Grand Canyon the following week. When calls were placed to the White House and DOI both insisted that the other was handling the Monument and to call them. Later that afternoon Secretary Babbitt called an emergency meeting for the next day, Saturday, adding to the sense of inevitability. On September 16, the governor traveled to Washington for his meeting with Mr. Panetta and spent the day making phone calls and having meetings with local officials.

On Tuesday, September 17, 1996 the Governor, Brad Barber and Joanne Newman met with Mr. Panetta, Kathleen McGinty, Chair of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality; Marsha Hale, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and another member of the White House staff were in the meeting. In the meeting Governor Leavitt focused on the states and local communities desire to protect the lands in that region but said that the way the new monument was being designed was the wrong way to go about it. The Governor also spoke about the School Trust Lands in the area, of which Mr. Panetta had never heard of. Mr. Panetta said that he had the responsibility of making a recommendation to the President that afternoon; he also said he would arrange to have the President call the Governor later that evening. On Wednesday, September 18, 1996 the President called the Governor at 1:58 a.m. The call lasted only thirty minutes, in which the Governor reviewed what his meeting with Mr. Panetta had covered. At the conclusion of the call the President asked that Governor Leavitt write him a memo detailing what they had gone over. At 4:00 a.m. Governor Leavitt faxed President Clinton a two page memo he had completed. The memo outlined several points that would allow the state and local governments to have a say in the planning and management of the monument. At 7:30 that morning Governor Leavitt spoke with Mr. Panetta who said he had read the memo and thought the suggestions in it had merit and would be discussing them with the President. Mr. Panetta called the Governor later that morning to tell him that the monument would be announced and the details regarding it.

At 2:00 p.m. Eastern time, President Clinton announced the creation of GSENM from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, an area encompassing 1.7 million acres, the size of Rhode Island, Delaware, and Washington D.C. combined. From this point on Governor Leavitt decided to try and make the best of the situation, while he nor other public officials had been involved in designing the basic outline of the Monument, he felt it would be far more productive to make the Monument the best it could be, rather than fighting it and dragging the Monument into a political disaster.

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Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service