When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he would visit Kanab last spring, Kane County officials knew they had a rare opportunity to influence the changes he might suggest for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The 1996 designation of the 1.9-million-acre monument still angers many of their friends and neighbors.
While the County Commission didn’t have a formal proposal, local officials wanted something in writing to offer Zinke, according to County Attorney Robert Van Dyke.
So Kane County staff pulled together a map indicating roughly 200,000 acres that county officials believe are worthy of monument status — a heart-shaped patch framed by Paria and Cottonwood washes, and the canyon country north of the Escalante River near Boulder.
Although the county presented the map to Zinke on May 10 at a closed-door meeting, officials have refused to release it, arguing it’s an incomplete draft that could mislead the public.
But The Salt Lake Tribune has obtained a version of the map from state public lands officials under a second open-records request. The map offers a glimpse into how Zinke may have arrived at his recommendations, which remain shrouded in secrecy, to the frustration of local businesses and pro-monument groups.
President Donald Trump has told Utah officials he will visit the state early next month to announce reductions to two Utah monuments — Grand Staircase and the new Bears Ears National Monument — but which parts will be removed remain the subject of intense speculation.
Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office has revealed that Trump will halve the Grand Staircase’s size, leaving between 700,000 acres and 1.2 million acres in a revised monument.
That’s a lot more acreage than appears on the map Kane officials shared with Zinke — and Commission Chairman Dirk Clayson emphasized the map in no way represents the county’s position regarding future monument boundaries.
“The actual boundaries of the monument are of secondary concern to the county. The management of the land that will in fact lead to greater protection of multiple uses, restoring access, healthier environments and preservation of local heritage and economy is our primary concern,” Clayson wrote in a statement.
“The map is merely a suggestion of locations that should be managed and promoted for high visitation.”
Livestock grazing and road access are far more important concerns to county officials than specific map lines, he said.
While Hatch’s staff did not say which areas would remain in the monument, many observers believe Trump will likely peel out roughly 1 million acres of the coal-bearing Kaiparowits Plateau.
Such a prospect has been met with dread by local businesses that rely on visitors drawn to the monument’s desolate scenery and geological formations near Boulder, Tropic, Escalante and Kanab.
They are frustrated by what they perceive as county commissioners’ lack of interest in the economic vitality they have brought to these historic boom-and-bust resource towns, which are now tourist magnets boasting some of Utah’s finest dining and outdoor adventures.
“I would say to the public, ‘Come visit these areas now because we don’t know what they are going to do with them,’” said restaurant owner Suzanne Catlett, president of the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce.
Some business leaders see the county’s reluctance to share its map with the public as evidence that officials are not engaged with those who care about the monument and aren’t involved with resource industries such as ranching and mining.
Catlett noted the 2.8 million comments submitted to Zinke favored leaving national monuments as they are, by an overwhelming margin.
The version of the map that public lands officials released is not identical to what was given Zinke, but it accurately shows the two general areas that county officials outlined. The released version included inaccurate acreages for these two areas, but they each appear to be about 100,000 acres.
Each is bigger than Arches National Park (77,000 acres) but smaller than Zion National Park (147,000 acres).
Its legend states: “Especially significant, isolated objects may be managed as smaller non-contiguous polygons.”
The map says grazing should be managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s Kanab Field Office, which would also administer the lands removed from the monument. Law enforcement should be the responsibility of the county sheriffs, it says, and roads would be administered by the state and counties.
Kane County is one of Utah’s counties with the highest percentages of public lands, with 60 percent of its land inside the monument. Officials with Garfield County, which overlaps with a smaller portion of the monument, have told The Tribune they have not made a formal proposal for a redrawn monument.
Garfield County Commission Chairman Leland Pollock said he trusts Zinke to make the right call and he would accept whatever Zinke recommends.
‘Other protections ... will still be in place’
What really matters, Van Dyke said, is changing management policies so they don’t interfere with ranchers’ ability to run livestock and public access to hundreds of roads slated for closure.
“The monument in Kane County, to many residents, has been a blight to our economy, our culture, our values,” he said. “It has been difficult over the last several decades. Citizens’ voices have been shut out.
“We are more concerned about the reality of what it causes to our community. We definitely want the land protected, but we don’t want it restricted from access, which is happening now,“ Van Dyke said.
He noted that commissioners have to balance competing perspectives, from ranchers who want the monument completely rescinded to groups that oppose any reduction at all.
“The environmentalists don’t consider the other protections that will still be in place if the monument is removed,” Van Dyke said.
For example, nearly half of the monument is within wilderness study areas, about 900,000 acres total, which must be managed in ways that won’t foreclose a future wilderness designation.
In a recent memo to Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, Clayson offered a list of hardships that monument regulations impose on the community.
The monument’s transportation plan closes three-fourths of the 486 historic roads on Kane County’s share of the monument. Of the remaining 112, only 42 allow ATVs. Such restrictions on motorized use make it hard for the public to enjoy the monument, he argued.
Paria Canyon and Wahweap Hoodoos, for example, remain closed to motorized access, with trailheads and picnic spots deserted.
Meanwhile, many trails cannot be marked, ensuring hikers get lost or injured, Clayson wrote. The requirements for getting permits to camp, the lack of trailhead restrooms and parking, and group size limits create roadblocks for families.
“We believe the monument should be a destination to promote visitation,” but regulations seem designed to keep people out, Clayson wrote.
The 9-billion-ton bounty of high-quality coal lying deep under the monument’s Kaiparowits Plateau was downplayed in Garfield and Kane counties’ recent communications with the federal government.
Lost opportunities to mine this coal had long been the chief complaint against the monument, created under the Antiquities Act by then-President Bill Clinton.
But leading monument critics, such as Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, now acknowledge there would be limited chances to mine the Kaiparowits, given the lack of infrastructure to process and move its coal and depressed demand.
Still, Trump, who has pledged to revive the coal industry, may cite access to coal among his rationales for reducing the monument when he comes to Utah next month.