SALIDA — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined federal and state officials on Saturday to dedicate the newly created Browns Canyon National Monument near Buena Vista.
Federal agencies will now prepare a management plan for the monument, with advice from affected American Indian tribes and state officials.
Browns Canyon National Monument, located between the towns of Buena Vista and Salida, includes about 21,500 acres of rugged cliffs, colorful rock outcroppings and mountain vistas, and is a popular destination for whitewater rafting.
The designation of the monument allows existing uses of the canyon area to continue under the joint supervision of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, including hunting, fishing and grazing. Supporters of the move say it will provide long-term protection for the canyon, compared with the current rules that must be re-evaluated every 20 years.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the designated lands have provided a home for people for 10,000 years, and the cultural and historical resources protected by the monument honor American Indian tribes. The general area is traditionally significant to the Utes. The Jicarilla Apache also claim cultural ties to area.
"Today's celebration honors the culmination of more than a decade of work by the local community to protect this amazing area," Jewell said.
President Barack Obama used the powers of the presidency to give the canyon national monument status. Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act, which grants presidents broad authority to protect historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval.
Outdoors and wildlife groups applauded the Browns Canyon designation, saying it would guarantee protection for future generations.
Several Colorado Republican lawmakers criticized the move, saying Obama overstepped his authority. Republicans in both the House and Senate have proposed legislation that would restrict the president's authority to unilaterally designate new monuments.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, called the move a "top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens" after it was announced earlier this year.
On Friday, Jewell reassured northwest Colorado officials and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, that the U.S. Department of the Interior will complete work soon on a study needed to keep open the Colowyo coal mine in western Colorado, which is waiting a study ordered by a judge to determine the mine's possible impact on global warming.
A Sept. 6 deadline is looming for an Interior Department agency, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, to complete its work, which would affect 220 workers.