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Op-ed: Grand Staircase is huge economic driver in Garfield County, and it shouldn’t shrink

First Published      Last Updated Mar 07 2017 05:26 pm

Utah HCR 12, Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, is a shameful assault on one of the crown jewels of America's National Monuments and the gateway communities of the Grand Staircase-Escalante. Our elected officials have offered ungrounded assertions on the impact of the monument, while turning their back on the vibrant and growing industry that already exists there.

The facts tell a very different story, and represent what those of us living in these communities know — the monument has been very good us. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the 2010 U.S. Census, Garfield County has seen improved property values, household income and per-capita income.




"Garfield County's average annual real per capita personal income growth … surpassed Utah's average throughout the 2000s (1.34 percent vs. 1.15 percent), and outperformed Utah's average over the six-year period of the last decade, 2010-2015 (2.86 percent vs. 2.15 percent)."

The overall investments in the communities of the Garfield County since 1996 have been directly connected to the designation of the monument. In Escalante, we are faced with the dual challenges of a labor shortage and building boom. The investments in the community, with the sustainable industry of tourism as an anchor, are growing each day.

Escalante High School is experiencing reduced enrollment, but this is not a result of the monument designation, nor is it unprecedented. An analysis of Escalante High School enrollment dating back to 1948 shows a consistent pattern of growth and decline. The monument has not negatively impacted Bryce Valley and Panguitch High Schools, therefore, Escalante High School must be experiencing more complex pressures leading to the declining enrollment.

"The Presidential Proclamation & Antiquities Act provide a clear mandate — to protect the myriad historic & scientific resources on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument," states the monument's 2000 management plan. "To meet this objective, the monument will be managed according to two basic principles. First and foremost, the monument will remain protected in its primitive, frontier state, ensuring the remote, undeveloped nature of this landscape remain for generations to come. Second, the monument will serve as an outdoor laboratory, providing scientific & educational opportunities to study biological & earth sciences, prehistoric life & environments, archaeology & pioneer history."

Claims that the monument has harmed traditional lifeways such as ranching are simply untrue. Grazing on Grand Staircase-Escalante is currently managed by rules and regulations that predate the monument. There has been no change in BLM management of grazing in this area since 1981. The boundaries of the monument were thoughtfully designated for the purpose of science and traditional lifeways, and should remain as determined.

Actions by the state of Utah to attack the designations of national monuments have already had serious economic impacts to the $8 billion tourist industry, and our communities are concerned. The discussion of opening up the Kaiparowitz Plateau for mining exploration is economically and environmentally absurd. Extractive industries are in decline all over the United States, with two major facilities shutting down due to economic impracticality in West Virginia and Arizona.

Our vibrant, growing businesses are dependent upon the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument remaining intact as designated in 1996, and we implore our elected officials to cease efforts to diminish the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and to rather seek sustainable, non-extractive economic opportunities that support appropriate growth and maintenance of the exceptional quality of life proximity to public lands offers.

Nicole Croft is executive director of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners.

 

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