Commentary: Trump has brought bulldozers to Grand Staircase-Escalante — and Utah’s award-winning Hell’s Backbone Grill is hurting for it

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Blake Spalding, co-owner of Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, shows a double truck photo from the new cookbook, "This Immeasurable Place: Food and Farming from the Edge of Wilderness," December 9, 2017.

For those of us fortunate enough to live in southern Utah, landscapes such as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are our backyards. We live and work in a storied place, a place that people travel the world over just to experience. But under President Donald Trump’s proclamation last December, the Grand Staircase is only about half the size it once was.

The president’s proclamation has also left areas open and vulnerable to drilling and mining. Sadly, there’s been a troubling development since The Washington Post featured our restaurant in the May 24 travel section. The magnificent landscape that drives our economy and attracts visitors to our restaurant is at serious risk. Recently, a Canadian company called Glacier Lake Resources purchased an old mine called the Colt Mesa Copper-Cobalt mine, which sits on lands cut from the Grand Staircase. Already the bulldozers have arrived on the Burr Trail to begin the destruction of our priceless landscapes, in order to provide access to the mine.

This devastating development is happening even while litigation on the reduction of Grand Staircase and Bears Ears National Monument wend their way through the court system. In the meantime, those of us in the local communities are feeling the negative effects of this unpopular and unjustified action.

In his proclamation, Trump said, “Some people think that the natural resources should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what: They’re wrong.” But, it appears “they” were right, as Trump and Zinke handed down their mandate reducing our monument without consulting those of us who require unspoiled public lands to make a living; and there are many of us in the communities surrounding Grand Staircase.

For my own business, I fear the harm caused by development on landscapes as iconic and delicate as the Grand Staircase-Escalante. It is impossible to overstate how detrimental resource extraction can be to the natural experience, which is what we rely on to ensure our customers keep coming back. Visitation to our beautiful monument has allowed our communities to avoid the roller-coaster effect of boom-and-bust extraction cycles. Outdoor recreation and tourism provide a much more stable and wholesome revenue flow.

However, Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have failed to recognize time and time again the importance of keeping these landscapes intact to our local economies and our way of life. From outfitters and hospitality businesses to ranching and agriculture, the fabric of Western economies is much more complex than the administration cares to understand.

Part of living and running a business in this unique and breathtaking place is acknowledging the stewardship we have of this land, which in truth belongs to all Americans. It is our duty to speak up for the landscape that we love beyond measure, and we hope everyone will join us in working to save it from cynical and shortsighted plundering that benefits no one.

Blake Spalding

Blake Spalding, along with her business partner Jen Castle, is chef/owner of the award-winning Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm in Boulder, Utah, which is now in its 19th season. Recently, Blake and Jen wrote their second cookbook, “This Immeasurable Place: Food & Farming from the Edge of Wilderness,” which highlights the extraordinary wilderness that is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.