Our country is on the cusp of losing protections for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – a place world famous for its geologic, biological, cultural, paleontological, and archeological wonders.
President Donald Trump recently assured Sen. Orrin Hatch that he would follow Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s advice to downsize Grand Staircase as well as Bear Ears National Monument, and would do so in December during a visit to Utah.
Rollback of Grand Staircase threatens not just these wonders but the livelihoods of locals who live and work in the heart of the monument. For this reason, the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce opposes any reduction to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
In 2016, I purchased Fire Rock Farm. My wife, young son and I cultivate alfalfa on the farm. The expanse and infinite adventures of Grand Staircase lured us away from what I previously considered my dream home in Colorado. Escalante and the Monument are our new home for which we’ve gone “all in.”
Before moving my family here, a business partner and I purchased Canyons Bed and Breakfast located in the heart of Grand Staircase. Our B&B features an historic pioneer house built in 1905 and a 100-year-old apricot tree that anchors a courtyard of various fruit trees, roses and sunflowers. I fully credit the national monument as the reason we have been able to run a profitable business in the historic town of Escalante. Most of our B&B guests are repeat customers who tell us each year that Grand Staircase draws them back for more adventures.
For the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce, Grand Staircase is more than a legal or political ball to be batted around. Chamber President Suzanne Catlett explains that “as business people who make a living in the Escalante Boulder region of Utah, we can tell you from firsthand experience that since the protection of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, our local economy in Escalante and Boulder has grown, diversified and is thriving.” The population of the regions surrounding the Monument grew by 13% respectively, and jobs grew a respective 24% percent since the monument designation.
The direct damage of Zinke’s announcement goes beyond just hurting businesses that cater to tourists. Rather, the entire economy in the Escalante-Boulder area has diversified and grown as a result of the Monument. Software professionals who work remotely, retirees, and farmers have all been drawn to this area where they invest economically and in the futures of their families.
Zinke’s report to the president does get one key thing right: Grand Staircase is full of objects qualifying for protection. But, the report is wrong to recommend that the boundaries be downsized.
Congress essentially re-certified and enlarged the monument, removing any ambiguity as to a President’s ability to shrink it. The Utah Schools and Lands Exchange Act of 1998 (passed by a Republican-controlled Congress) recognized the legitimacy of Grand Staircase’s boundaries and expanded its size by providing 176,000 acres of state school lands within the monument to be traded for federal lands outside the Monument that are more suitable for energy development.
Then in 2004, a federal court rejected legal challenges to Grand Staircase based on three findings, which still apply today. U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson determined that “no law that was broken in creating the Grand Staircase Monument,” and that the president “used his discretion in setting aside the smallest area necessary to protect those objects.”
Revising management is the job of the Bureau of Land Management in consultation with the local advisory committee. Issues such as protecting antiquities, access, infrastructure upgrades, and traditional uses are all best addressed at the local level with public participation than by executive fiat. I find it ironic that Zinke talks about wanting to shift management away from Washington, D.C., to the regions, yet he and now President Trump are cutting off local input by taking unilateral action.
Bottom line, Staircase Escalante is a smashing success, and a model for public lands management in the West.
The Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce encourages all Americans to fight against this effort by the Trump Administration to diminish the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a special expanse of adventure, overflowing with fossils, archeology, biological and geological diversity, and undeveloped expanse and adventure for us and our children. Like the Constitution, Grand Staircase belongs to everyone.
Ben Blaugrund owns Canyons Bed and Breakfast and Fire Rock Farm in Escalante, Utah. He is a board member of the Escalante and Boulder Utah Chamber of Commerce.