Commentary: Marking the anniversary of Grand Staircase

Tourists on Wednesday explore the Toadstools, formations located in an area recently removed from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The spot 45 miles east of Kanab is a popular destination for families. The Bureau of Land Management is developing plans for managing the 900,000 acres in Utah's Kane and Garfield counties that President Donald Trump stripped from the monument, as well as the 1 million acres that remain. Photo by Brian Maffly, shot March 28, 2018

This week, communities in southern Utah are celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. As a local business owner and the president of the Escalante and Boulder Utah Chamber of Commerce, I have experienced first hand how protected public lands contribute to our region’s thriving tourism economy and benefit our way of life.

Visitors from across the country and around the world travel to southern Utah to marvel at Grand Staircase-Escalante’s unique geologic wonders, squeeze through its slot canyons and find solitude in a wild landscape. Each year, more and more tourists stay in our motels and RV campgrounds, shop at our stores and hire local guides. And thanks to our national monument and other protected public lands, people want to live here, start new businesses and invest in our communities. In fact, a study by Headwaters Economic found that personal income jumped 32 percent and jobs grew 24 percent between 2001 and 2015 in areas neighboring the national monument.

But as we celebrate the many reasons why the communities of Escalante and Boulder have fallen in love with our national monument, the future of this breathtaking landscape is in peril. Last December, President Trump signed a proclamation to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly 50 percent. Despite pending legal challenges to this action, the Bureau of Land Management has recently released draft management plans that propose to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of acres of previously protected public lands to future mining, drilling and other forms of development.

If implemented, the BLM’s proposed management plans could have a devastating impact on our small businesses and local communities. Visitors and new residents alike are drawn to the monument because of its wide-open spaces, fresh air, deafening quiet, and unmatched beauty — all which would be impacted by industrial activities. Protected public lands are the foundation of our rural economy, and the administration’s recent actions have created uncertainty for future investments and for the many people, including my family, who have built their lives based on a fully intact Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

While the events of this past year have shocked our communities, local monument supporters remain vigilant in defending the lands we hold so dear. I, like so many others, feel a sense of responsibility to preserve Grand Staircase-Escalante’s magnificent public lands and the local economies dependent on the monument’s success for future generations of southern Utahns and for all Americans.

On this, the 22nd anniversary of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, I implore all of us who care about our public lands to speak up to protect a critical piece of our nation’s heritage. The BLM will be accepting comments on its draft management plans for the region through Nov. 30. You can visit monumentsforall.org/grandstaircase to add your voice. Together we will save the real Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Suzanne Catlett

Suzanne Catlett, Escalante, is president of the Escalante and Boulder Utah Chamber of Commerce

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