Arizona Public Lands   Position letter regarding the Department of Interior review of National Monuments. Of the 27 under review by Executive Order, four are in Arizona. This letter addresses those four monuments to inform those who would diminish these monuments, and empower our legislators who want to protect them as we do.

Ken Matesich
August, 2017

Honorable Legislators of the State of Arizona;
US Senators, US Representatives, Arizona Governor, AZ Senators,
AZ Representatives, Mayors and City Councilmembers

We are writing this in support of our four Arizona National Monuments that are under review by President Trump's Executive Order (EO 13792 of April 26, 2017). All of us who have signed this letter do not want to see these uniquely American landscapes downsized or re-designated or transferred to state control. We feel that National Monument status is appropriate.          

1.)  Ironwood Forest,    2000   128,917          Northwest of Tucson                                  

2.)  Sonoran Desert,     2001   486,149          Southwest of Phoenix                               

3.)  Vermilion Cliffs,      2000   279,568          East of Grand Canyon

4.)  Grand Canyon-Parashant,        2000, 1,014,000        North Grand Canyon

We want them to remain with their current National Monument designations and remain in size and scope, as originally set aside, for all Americans to visit and enjoy for generations to come. These public lands are important economically, culturally and ecologically to the citizens of Arizona, and the United States. While each of these National Monuments protects irreplaceable Native American archaeological resources under the American Antiquities Act of 1906, they are also good for Arizona in so many other ways. Arizona attracts tourists from all over the world specifically to visit the unique Sonoran Desert. They bring billions of dollars of revenue to Arizona and contribute to making Arizona the vibrant state we enjoy.

Each of these four monuments has had extensive review with citizen, corporate, and civic input at the time they were designated. Each encompasses the appropriate amount of land to effectively protect the prehistoric and historic resources, and the flora and fauna of the area in question. No more land than was deemed necessary, by all concerned parties, was set aside.

I have visited dozens of National Monuments, including three of the monuments under review in my state, and I can declare with absolute conviction that the Ironwood Forest, the Sonoran Desert and Vermillion Cliffs National Monuments are priceless resources. They certainly should have been set aside when they were by President Clinton with knowledgeable assistance by then former Governor and Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt. The monuments represent irreplaceable biotic zones in the Sonoran Desert that are unlike any other park or monument. We are very fortunate to have Saguaro National Park near us in Tucson. However, the Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert Monuments protect very different landscapes due to the markedly lower rainfall and geologic terrain. They are also unique in their Archaeological sites, and their native plants and animals.

All four Arizona monuments under review provide protection for extremely fragile and precious landscapes within a rapidly expanding population. They are simply not replaceable if adversely impacted by grazing and/or mining interests. None require extensive monetary resources to maintain since they are undeveloped and do not have visitor facilities at this time.

The Arizona Office of Tourism research tells us the "total direct travel spending in Arizona was $21 billion in 2015, and the Gross Domestic Product of the travel industry was $8.8 billion".1 Tourists visit Arizona in large part because our public lands are truly unique in the world.


Ironwood Forest National Monument, 2000, 128,917 acres, northwest of Tucson, AZ

This former BLM and State Trust land was afforded greater protection for various good reasons, not limited to: the preservation of 10,000 years of Native American prehistory; the preservation of the endemic desert ironwood tree (Olneya tesota) and unique saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea); protection for an indigenous herd of desert bighorn sheep living within the monument as well as desert tortoise,2 chuckwalla and the lesser long-nosed bat; and preservation of unique geological formations such as Ragged Top Mountain. The beautiful purple flowering desert ironwood has the distinction of being "the oldest living tree in the Sonoran Desert with a life expectancy of 500 to 800 years". "While they are not endangered, their habitat is rapidly shrinking" due to an ever increasing human population.3

As aptly indicated in the Tucson Sentinel (2017), "Ironwood monument was created as part of the 'Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan', which is Pima County's effort to guide growth, protect the environment and provide developers with a simpler path to get their projects built… Ironwood is also part of a giant 'mitigation bank' for the Endangered Species Act. Simply put, developers in critical habitat can build only if they preserve an amount of critical habitat up to three times the acreage that they blade. So 72,000 acres of land got roped off, which in fact allows up to thousands of acres of development closer to town".4 This directly supports development progress in Tucson and Pima County, which are economic drivers in the region.

There are no energy resources found here, except space that could be used for solar fields. However, there is an abundance of better suited locations for large-scale solar farms. There are no oil or gas reserves, nor geothermal resources.

There is an active copper mine adjacent to the designated monument, which was carefully taken into consideration with local and regional input, when the monument was established. This asset has been unaffected by the monument status, and continues to extract minerals and supports the regional economy. According to the Arizona Geological Survey, "exploration for additional copper mineralization was discontinued on the monument. However, "exploration continues to this day on mining claims on BLM lands in the Silver Bell Mountains".5

The Arizona State Museum in Tucson, Arizona has recorded many Archaeological sites spanning thousands of years. All of these sites are fragile, but important in understanding indigenous peoples' hunting, farming and living patterns since the last Ice Age. There are numerous irreplaceable Hohokam rock art sites consisting of flora, fauna, human and celestial petroglyphs. These represent an important part of the folklore left behind a thousand years ago in this area.

According to Old Pueblo Archaeology, there are many hundreds of sites in Ironwood ranging from artifact scatters to habitation sites, rock art sites, and terraced agricultural sites. They encompass "prehistory, historical Anglo and O'odham and Spanish Mission sites. The Mission Santa Ana de Cuiquiburitac and Santan village, which date to the late 1700's, has been inadequately studied". According to the Arizona State Museum site records, "the mission church was built in 1810-1811 by Father Juan Bautista Llorens".6

There is also a "Titan II Missile Site (570-03) which lies within the monument".7 It was dedicated in 2016, and sports an interpretive display.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has "studied the area for the past 30 years and has identified 560 different native plant species", many of which are rare. They identified the "endangered turk’s head cactus (Echinocactus horizonthalonius), which is found in the Waterman Mountains".8 This is typical of the enormous diversity that characterizes the uniqueness of the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest.


Sonoran Desert National Monument, 2001, 486,149 acres, southwest of Phoenix, AZ

The monument is a rugged but scenic preserve with few trails and unpaved roads, but no developed facilities. Interstate 8 bisects the monument. The proximity to the Phoenix metropolitan area, with over 4.5 million people, is key to this monument designation. It will preserve and provide recreation for millions now, and many more in the future of this rapidly growing metropolis. But, only if its status is maintained today. This land is also very fragile, and has dense growths of saguaros, the majestic state symbol. Mining and cattle grazing, which continues on these lands, must operate with oversight or the area is at risk of irreparable damage that would take generations if not hundreds of years to recover. There are no oil and gas resources nor uranium deposits present within the monument.

This monument occupies lower elevations of the Sonoran Desert, and therefore protects a unique biotic zone unlike the others. The geologic environment, characterized by Basin and Range formations, is also especially unique in all of America. The United States Geological Survey describes it like this: "the Earth's crust has been stretched up to 100% of its original width that thinned and cracked the crust as it was pulled apart, creating large faults. Along these roughly north-south-trending faults mountains were uplifted and valleys down-dropped, producing the distinctive alternating pattern of linear mountain ranges and valleys of the Basin and Range province".9

The Arizona State Museum has recorded many dozens of Archaeological sites spanning thousands of years within this area. An article by The Bureau of Land Management describes some of the important cultural features within Sonoran Desert. There are "four designated trails in three congressionally designated wilderness areas that total 26 miles. Many miles of roads are available for mountain biking and motorized vehicle tours. The monument has significant archaeological and historic sites, and remnants of several important historic trails, including the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. This congressionally designated trail parallels the Butterfield Overland Stage Route, the Mormon Battalion Trail, and the Gila Trail".10

According to the Arizona Geological Survey, historical mineral resources of this area include, "aggregate, gold, silver, copper and manganese. However, "the Mine Index for Metallic Mineral Index of Arizona (1985) shows no mining districts in the SDNM". They also indicate that there is limited copper resources, "With the exception of the Sand Tank Mountains, however, a key signature of porphyry copper mineralization, the presence of 50-80 million-year-old granitic rocks, is absent".11

This monument will provide jobs for the greater Phoenix area if it were built-out with visitor facilities and a visitor center. It is more valuable as a recreational resource than for any other uses.


Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, 2000, 279,568 acres, east of the Grand Canyon

Vermillion-Cliffs features the colorful and extraordinary 2,000 foot high sandstone escarpment at the edge of a remote, sandy plateau, and includes the Buckskin Gulch a 12 mile long slot canyon, the rock formations of Coyote Buttes and the Paria River Canyon.

According to the Arizona Geological Survey, "The absence of formally identified and characterized mining districts in the VCNR reflects the lack of extractable mineral resources here. In their 1980 mineral assessment of the Vermilion Cliffs and Paria Plateau area, Burns and Lane concluded, ‘No reserves of uranium, gold or mercury can be postulated for the study area with data presently available.’" In summary they state, "Historically, mineral extraction was rare and there is little geologic evidence for economic minerals deposits in the monument".12

The monument is also home to a growing number of California condors, which is an endangered species. Each year, condors hatched and raised in a captive breeding program, started in 1996, are released in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. A condor viewing kiosk, located at the west end of the monument, invites visitors to view these enormous black birds soaring along the majestic cliffs" where they nest.13

The Arizona Wilderness Coalition indicates that besides the successful introduction of condors, "the desert bighorn sheep has also made a comeback in the monument". Unfortunately, "efforts to reintroduce the gray wolf have not been successful". "The region also boasts a rich cowboy history and currently offers opportunities for ranching, hunting, fishing, river running, and ecotourism".14

The Archaeology of this monument is diverse and spans over 12 centuries. There are numerous prehistoric Anasazi sites including the West Bench Pueblo, which was a teaching excavation for the University of Northern Arizona.15


Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, 2000, 1,014,000 acres, north of the Grand Canyon

This monument is over one million acres and is located in an extremely remote location of the state. It is virtually cut-off by the Grand Canyon to the south and has hardly any paved roads. This alone has protected it from modern development for the last one hundred years.

There may be energy resources located here, such as uranium, however, the area is marginally surveyed. The Arizona Geological Survey documents "the sparse occurrence of uranium and other minerals in breccia pipes located in northern Arizona". But the "concentration of uranium is typically less than 1% (0.3 - 0.6%)", and given today's depressed market for uranium, they are not economically viable for mineral extraction.

The summary by the AGS states these challenges facing uranium U308 ore extraction here: "1) stagnant uranium ore prices; 2) availability of inexpensive imported uranium ore; 3) plateauing of uranium consumption nationally; 4) the substantial political challenges of developing nuclear power".16

An Archaeological survey by the Western Archeological and Conservation Center was conducted in 2006 on the Shivwits Plateau within the boundaries of the Grand Canyon-Parashant. "Fifty-five sites, 29 small artifact scatters, and 52 isolated finds were located and recorded. The sites include multi-room habitation sites, single-room sites, agricultural sites, chert acquisition sites, artifact scatters, and a rock art site. Archaic, Virgin Anasazi, and Southern Paiute components were found at these sites, with most of the datable artifacts reflecting Pueblo II occupation". "A total of 1,895 acres was surveyed within five different areas of the plateau".17

Considering this survey area was only 0.002% of the total land area, there most certainly are a large number of important prehistoric sites in the Grand Canyon-Parashant.

The monument has a largely undisturbed and isolated ecosystem which provides a unique study case for various research projects. There are studies of the more than 20 bat species living there, natural spring rehabilitation projects, and research in rangeland monitoring, desert ecosystem and plant mapping. "The largely wild and undisturbed dry caves of the Monument represent time capsules that harbor items like ice age fossils, cultural artifacts, unique wildlife and geologic features".18

"The Parashant is a huge, not easily accessible area, and the unpredictable, low rainfall amounts mean that plants may show up after favorable weather that haven't been seen in a decade or more. Botanists have been surveying the area for well over 130 years, but even so new species are still being regularly discovered".19

We appreciate your valuable consideration of our views on these four of the 27 National Monuments under review. Each one of these Arizona National Monuments provides a unique and important resource to protect and share with future generations of Americans. They are best protected as National Monuments, but still provide diverse uses by a diverse public. If these desert landscapes are compromised or destroyed, it would take many generations to recover. The Archaeological remains alone are one of a kind.


Ken has degrees in archaeology, geology, and computer science. He has worked for the Arizona Geological Survey, and The Arizona State Museum. He has been a professional photographer and business owner, and currently works for the United States Air Force.




Ironwood Forest Nat Mon:








Sonoran Desert Nat Mon:




Vermillion Cliffs Nat Mon:





Grand Canyon-Parashant Nat Mon: