WASHINGTON -- Two land-use groups are challenging five new national monuments in federal court, claiming President Clinton overstepped his authority by putting new restrictions on 1.5 million acres in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state.
The Mountain States Legal Foundation and the BlueRibbon Coalition filed a lawsuit in federal court here Tuesday seeking to overturn the declarations.
The monuments are among 10 Clinton has designated this year on 4 million acres the government already owned.
Mining, logging, oil drilling and off-road vehicle use are banned or restricted in the national monuments.
"The bad thing is, the president did it unilaterally," said William Perry Pendley of the foundation, a conservative group that earlier filed a pending lawsuit challenging Clinton's 1996 creation of a national monument in Utah.
"The bottom line is, the president doesn't have the authority to do what he's done. Only Congress does."
Spokesmen for the White House and the Interior Department said Tuesday they had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.
Clinton created the monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to set aside monuments to protect areas with historic or scientific interest.
He has said the monuments -- which include a swath of arid canyons dotted with American
Indian ruins and a spawning ground for salmon -- need protection from overuse, vandalism, pollution or encroaching development.
Western Republicans have criticized the monuments, calling them an election-year ploy that may please environmentalists but prevent legitimate and profitable use of the federal land.
GOP vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney suggested last week that some of the monuments might be rescinded if he and George W. Bush are elected in November.
Pendley's group is trying to do that through the courts, arguing that Clinton violated the Antiquities Act's requirement that the area set aside be as small as possible. Pendley also argues that Clinton cannot use the act to protect features that are not historic, archaeological or scientific sites.
"He has no authority to close these areas because they are pretty, because they have endangered species habitat, because they have wild and scenic rivers or because they have 800-year-old trees," Pendley said.
The Ironwood Forest National Monument in Arizona includes groves of the ancient desert trees.
But Pendley acknowledged that federal courts have rejected similar challenges to national monuments in the past. He said Supreme Court decisions upholding the creation of Grand Canyon National Monument -- it later became a national park -- and another monument in Nevada dealt mainly with side issues and not the scope of a president's monument-making authority.
The Idaho-based BlueRibbon Coalition, a group of off-road vehicle users and companies, is most concerned about the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon, said spokeswoman Adena Cook.
Motorcycle riders there "now by fiat find themselves excluded from the trails they have enjoyed" for years, Cook said.
"We're concerned that it doesn't really protect anything other than the satisfaction of grabbing headlines," she said.
Besides Ironwood Forest and Cascade-Siskiyou, the monuments being challenged are Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado and Hanford Reach in Washington state.
On the Net:
Mountain States Legal Foundation: www.mountainstateslegal .com
BlueRibbon Coalition: www.sharetrails.org
Interior Department: www.doi.gov