Washington — A 150-foot pillar of sandstone where Capt. William Clark carved his name in 1805 leaving the only archaeological evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition deserves to be protected as a national monument, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said Friday.
The Pompeys Pillar monolith east of Billings, Mont., is one of five areas Babbitt recommended to President Clinton on Friday for preservation as national monuments. Another is a 149-mile stretch of the upper Missouri River in Montana, an area where the Lewis and Clark party became the first non-Indians to see bighorn sheep.
Also included are one of the last remaining swaths of pristine grassland in central California and two areas of coral reefs swarming with marine life in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"These natural landscapes are unique, historic American treasures," Babbitt said in a statement. "They need more care and protection than we are giving them now."
Monument designations would give greater protection to the five areas, which are already owned by the federal government. The new protections likely would include bans or restrictions on vehicle use, mining and oil drilling.
Clinton has already created 11 national monuments and expanded two, using a 1906 law to bring new restrictions to millions of acres, mostly in the West. The monuments are designed to be part of Clinton's environmental legacy, which includes an order this month giving greater protection to 99,500 square nautical miles of coral reefs and other features off the coast of Hawaii.
Critics including President-elect Bush call Clinton's actions unnecessary and unilateral, though they acknowledge that overturning a monument designation in Congress is highly unlikely.
"It's the big, strong arm of the government coming in and telling people what they can do," said Rep. Rick Hill, R-Mont.
Environmentalists have cheered Clinton's monument decisions and asked him to create more.
"It's not a land grab. These are federal lands to begin with, so you can't really grab them," said David Alberswerth of The Wilderness Society.
The monuments Babbitt proposed Friday:
Upper Missouri River Breaks, 377,000 acres along 149 miles of the river in north-central Montana.
Pompeys Pillar, which Clark named after the young son of their Shoshone interpreter, Sacagawea.
Carrizo Plain, 204,000 acres of rolling grasslands between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield, Calif. The area is home to wildlife including several endangered species, American Indian sacred sites and a portion of the San Andreas Fault.
Virgin Islands Coral Reef, a nearly 13,000-acre area offshore of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The area is adjacent to the Virgin Islands National Park and includes "all the elements of a Caribbean tropical marine ecosystem," the Interior Department said, including mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs.
An expansion of the Buck Island Reef National Monument in the Virgin Islands, which was created in 1961. The expansion includes 18,000 offshore acres of coral reefs with unusual "haystacks" of elkhorn coral.