Controversy flares over making Colorado canyon national monument
(Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to name three sites around the country this week as national monuments, including a canyon in Colorado where critics of the move denounced the plan on Wednesday as a big government land grab.
Obama is expected to announce the designation of Browns Canyon, a picturesque gorge in the Rocky Mountains some 90 miles (145 km) west of Colorado Springs, during remarks in Chicago on Thursday.
He will also name Chicago's Pullman district, famed in the history of the U.S. civil rights movement, as well as a site in Hawaii where Japanese-Americans were held in internment camps during World War Two.
Listing something as a national monument places it among a wide range of protected areas managed by federal agencies that include battlefields, recreation areas and cultural sites.
The designation of Browns Canyon, a rugged landscape of gulches, cliffs, forests and meadows that is home to elk, black bears and mountain lions, as well as eagles and falcons, had been sought unsuccessfully by Colorado lawmakers in the past.
For hikers, the canyon provides striking views of some of Colorado's Fourteeners - mountains taller than 14,000 feet (4,270 meters) - and it has become especially popular with whitewater rafters who ride the Arkansas River that churns through it.
Collin O'Mara, head of the National Wildlife Federation, praised Obama's move and said in a statement that it means outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy "a conservation jewel" for generations to come.
But it drew fierce criticism from some Republican lawmakers who called it an abuse of office.
"I am outraged. ... This is a top-down, big government land grab by the President," U.S. congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs said on Wednesday, adding that locals' concerns over issues such as grazing and water rights were not addressed.
"My message to the President is cut it out," said another Republican U.S. congressman from Colorado, Ken Buck of Windsor. "He is not king. No more acting like King Barack."
Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, meanwhile, said the canyon was a "national treasure," and he praised the Democratic incumbent he ousted in November, former U.S. Senator Mark Udall, for being a champion of previous attempts to protect it.
Gardner said he will introduce legislation in the coming days "to ensure that Colorado's state and local interests have a seat at the table in discussions about Browns Canyon."
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