By Brice Wallace
A group of businesses in the Escalante and Boulder area have made their position known regarding the possible shrinkage of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Specifically, they urge the federal government to leave the monument alone, bucking stances taken by Utah government officials at various levels.
While Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has submitted his report on national monuments to President Trump, details have not been made public. However, The New York Times, citing “people briefed on the plans,” reported that both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah be reduced in size. The Washington Post had similar reporting, based on information from “multiple individuals briefed on the decision.”
Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated a national monument by President Clinton in 1996. President Obama designated Bears Ears late last year.
Supporters of reducing the monuments’ size have said it would open up more now-protected federal land for development, such as mining, logging and drilling. Opponents include Native American tribes and outdoor recreation and environmental groups.
In an Aug. 22 letter to Zinke, 21 businesses that are members of the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce noted that many people want the monuments “left alone and remain fully protected.” They asked that Zinke “take similar action” regarding the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as he did with the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona, which will remain in its current protected state.
“Since the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was designated 21 years ago, local residents have built and invested in businesses to capitalize on increased tourism to the area,” the letter says. “Tourism represents 44 percent of total private employment in Escalante and the surrounding communities. At the same time, traditional economies such as livestock grazing continue to be protected in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.”
The group says that “shrinking the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will hurt our businesses and destroy what our community has built over two decades.”
The businesses said they are prepared to applaud Zinke if he decides that the monument should remain fully protected but also are “ready to decry any decision that erodes the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — and with it, our local economic opportunities.”
The businesses’ stance runs counter to that of many federal, state and local officials. The Utah Legislature this spring adopted two resolutions on the topic. HCR11 calls for the president to rescind the Bears Ears designation. HCR12 urges federal legislation to reduce or modify the Grand Staircase-Escalante designation. Both were signed by Gov. Gary Herbert. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has said Utah’s national monuments “are a prime example of Antiquities Act abuse.” In May, the Garfield County Commission unanimously recommended a reversal of the Bears Ears designation.
In April, a UtahPolicy.com survey from Dan Jones & Associates indicated that 52 percent of Utahns surveyed supported either eliminating the designation for Bears Ears or reducing the monument’s size, with 41 percent urging it be left alone. Fifty-three percent wanted Grand Staircase-Escalante left as it is, with 41 percent wanting its size reduced or its designation rescinded.
The New York Times has reported that Zinke has recommended to the president that Bears Ears be reduced from 1.35 million acres to 160,000. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is 1.9 million acres.
Trump in April ordered a review of 27 national monuments, including several designated or expanded in recent years under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law. Zinke’s work since April has included visiting many of the monuments, including both of those in Utah, and conducting meetings with advocates and opponents of monument designations. The public also has had a voice, with more than 2.4 million comments submitted online to the Department of the Interior.
“No president should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” Zinke said in submitting his draft report to the president.
“The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much-needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses and recreation.”