Newest U.S. National Park Blocked by Legal Dispute

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The delay is creating some unease among Colorado environmentalists, who view the purchase of the ranch as critical in preserving the delicate ecosystem.

Although the dunes appear dry, they are actually damp beneath the surface. The countless grains of sand are stabilized by the adhesive effects of water that runs off the mountains and is linked with the aquifers.

If the water is piped out, as some developers have proposed, the dunes could be imperiled.

"The watershed is extremely important to sustain the natural sand cycling process," Chaney said.

Limited Protection

Assuming that Farallon wins the right to sell the land, the government still must come up with the approximately U.S. $32 million needed for the purchase, which is being brokered by The Nature Conservancy. The original legislation authorized $8.5 million, and the Bush administration proposed another $2 million in this year's budget.

McInnis wants Congress to appropriate the remaining money this year, although it remains unclear whether the court case will be resolved any time soon.

In the meantime, the sand dunes remain a national monument—a designation that does not offer as much environmental protection as national park status.

"Once the legal issues are settled, we're going to move full-speed ahead," said Josh Penry, a spokesman for McInnis. "This is a crown jewel—100,000 acres (40,500 hectares) of incredibly diverse country. It's hard to imagine a more important land acquisition for the federal government anywhere in the country."

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