I am writing to express my opinions regarding the mailer “Restoring Our Land Rights” that U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart just sent out supporting the president’s recent reductions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. My perspective is that of a retired Bureau of Land Management district manager who oversaw two national monuments on the Arizona Strip.
Stewart’s characterization that “ranchers have been kicked off the range” and “local economies have been negatively impacted” is not accurate and only serves to further distort/inflame the issue. Certainly, national monument designations do affect the management of traditional uses, but they are not nearly as exclusionary as designated wilderness and, in most cases, traditional uses such as grazing, hunting and other forms of recreational uses can be accommodated while protecting monument objects (and most monument proclamations recognize and provide for traditional uses).
How local economies are affected is a mixed bag. Extractive uses such as mining are definitely limited to valid and existing rights, however, businesses that rely on recreation and tourism are enhanced. In the case of GSENM, the ability to mine coal is more affected by market forces and demand that now favor natural gas and other cheaper and cleaner forms of energy than it was by the monument designation. Making the coal resources available for extraction does not mean they will ever be mined. This just promotes false hopes (in much the same way the president promises to bring back coal jobs when it will never happen).
As much opposition as there was and still is in some quarters to the designation of the GSENM, this area was designated over 20 years ago and has gone through extensive periods of public involvement in the land use planning process for the monument. There was no need or just cause for such extensive reductions. In the case of Bear’s Ears, as it was a much more recent designation and there has not yet been a comprehensive land use planning process, perhaps more adjustments in the boundary were appropriate, but not to the extent that was done.
Stewart and others may feel gratified by the recent executive actions, but they will likely be short-lived. There are simply too many people in this state and country who value conservation over extractive uses and the long-term demographic shifts are not in favor of those who oppose conservation. Lawsuits to overturn the reductions of these national monuments will likely be successful and will once and for all more clearly define the limits of executive power to amend national monument designations.
Rather than focusing on short-term actions that result in short-term gratification, a better use of everyone’s time and resources would be to accept the designations as they are and focus on the long-term management so that stable economies can be built around them. The time and expenses to designate, un-designate and then re-designate only consumes valuable and limited resources that can be better spent in cooperation and coordination.
Looking even further ahead, Congress and the executive branch should focus on the bigger picture of how many special designations are necessary or appropriate. As a former land use manager, I think we are at a point where (given current appropriations) there may already be too much to manage. Each new designation carries public expectations that cannot be met given current budgets and staffing.
It would be better to focus on what to do going forward than trying to undo what has already been done.
Scott Florence, Dammeron Valley, is a former land manager for the Bureau of Land Management.