Secretly under siege.
Internal threats to public federal lands in Utah have been ramping up lately—the Public Lands Initiative proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the sudden and recent sale of SITLA lands around the state and the inevitable talk by the most recent Presidential administration of undoing or reducing in size Utah’s newest monument, Bears Ears.
Another threat is underway, one much quieter than that surrounding Bears Ears, which is working to destroy a piece of southern Utah that has been protected since 1996: the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument created by President Clinton through the Antiquities Act.
Grand Staircase-Escalante covers 1.9 million acres of southern Utah canyons, cliffs and plateaus that have rich recreational potential but more importantly have incredible scientific value for geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists and other disciplines. “One thing the Staircase has in its favor is that the boundaries were established based on science and scientific values,” says Nicole Croft, executive director of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners. “Clinton didn’t just draw a magic line with no reason. There are 3,000 different species found inside the Monument and there is still so much untapped knowledge.”
Croft’s organization, based in Kanab, works closely with Monument locals, visitors and schools on projects that range from the removal of invasive Russian olive along the Escalante River to funding a fulltime lab manager for the Monument’s paleontology lab. Their most important work as the frontline defenders of the Monument’s very existence, however, is just beginning.
One important reason for having concerned local eyes and ears on the ground around the Monument is because the bid to destroy this national treasure has been so sneaky. What Croft knows is that two counties whose lands overlap the Monument, Kane County and Garfield County, have created a resolution asking the Feds to reduce the size of the Monument. But the exact wording of the resolution is being closely guarded.
“We have not been allowed to see this resolution,” says Croft, “but we’ve heard there are maps. There are places they are already looking at carving up.”
Another red flag for Utah conservationists is the name of the resolution’s most adamant backer: State Rep. Mike Noel (Kanab), a man who has been fighting the Monument since its inception. Croft says that Noel is looking to get at least a 74% reduction in the size of the Monument, shrinking it from 1.9 million acres to about 200,000.
What makes the Monument’s current size so unbearable to these county commissioners? It probably has something to do with coal. The Grand Staircase is estimated to contain 62 billion tons of coal worth hundreds of billions of dollars. What the redrawn maps of the region would look like if left up to the Kane and Garfield County politicians is, at this point, anyone’s guess but it would likely carve out huge areas rich in minerals.
On March 13, Garfield County will meet with the expected goal of pushing through a modified version of the resolution that’s been proposed for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Written comments up until that point will be accepted but there are also other ways for concerned citizens to get involved.
Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners recommends these actions:
Write a letter to the editor for your local paper and for news outlets far and wide. Getting attention outside of Utah could be a crucial part of stopping this land grab. Encourage your friends outside of Utah to do the same because Grand Staircase belongs to all Americans.
Spread the word on social media! Why do you #standwithgrandstaircase? Ryan Zinke is likely to be confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior. GSEP has already invited him to meet with them to dispel the myth that the people who live around Grand Staircase don’t support it. Contact him on social media @RyanZinke. You can also send postcards and letters to Ryan Zinke at 1419 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.
Participate in Grand Staircase Escalante Partners’ “Our Monument” campaign, to be used on social media and sent to policy makers and elected officials: Send your favorite photo(s) of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to OurMonument@gsenm.org along with a brief reflection: Why did you want to share this photo?
For more information about the resolution and suggestions on what you can do: go to the Partners’ website at gsenm.org.