Sarah Bauman: Utah’s monuments should not be stuck in a tug-of-war

Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears should be preserved as national monuments.

(Photo courtesy Jerry Roundy) Dance Hall Rock near Hole in the Rock Road at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is photographed in May, 2011.

With the state of Utah’s lawsuit challenging the use of the Antiquities Act to establish and restore Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, I imagine a tug-of-war with two groups of people on either side of the combined 3.2 million acres.

One group is pulling to keep it all together. And the other group is pulling to shake loose chunks of land that they yearn to manage and feel an inherent right to manage. Those working to pull the monuments apart make arguments about federal overreach, “land grabs” and people “not from here” trying to influence how the land is managed. All of this despite the fact that the land within the monuments is federal land. Monument designation made no changes in ownership at all.

In my role as executive director for Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, I advocate for the importance of Grand Staircase as a connected landscape because of what we stand to lose if we fracture it and do not actively protect what is vulnerable, fragile and irreplaceable.

The 2021 restoration of the boundaries for both monuments brought renewed hope for restored protections and a brief reprieve in the tug of war. But today, in the initial stages of the resource management planning processes for both monuments, we face a lawsuit attempting to interrupt the planning process, and so we gather again on our respective sides, arms flexed, heels dug in.

Along with the lawsuit challenging the use of the Antiquities Act to establish and restore the monuments, the state shared a fancy marketing plea (that was no doubt created using taxpayer dollars), in the form of a promotional video, describing how downsizing the monuments and allowing for more local control will help ensure that the landscapes are “protected.”

No mention of intentions for motorized vehicles or extractive industries, like coal mining or drilling for oil and gas. Or how, exactly, the state plans to do a better job of “properly protecting resources” once protections (such as monument designation) are stripped away.

The video feels deceptive. It provides a gross misinterpretation of the contributing factors for increased visitation (which includes the state’s own marketing campaigns aimed at nearby national parks) and mounting impacts on the ground. And in its claims that resources would be protected by existing federal laws along with a state-driven action plan, it provides a false sense of security for the Utah residents and the American people who care about protecting these Monuments, and the objects of value within them.

I have the honor to speak for my organization – and all the people, organizations and businesses throughout the state and country who have reached out to affirm their commitment to monument restoration, connectivity and protections by supporting us.

We intend to keep holding onto our end of the rope with all our might. We are doing this because there is too much at stake for science, Tribal cultures, our ability to adapt to the detrimental impacts of climate change and the preservation of wilderness, wildlife corridors and disappearing habitat.

As far as what will happen in the end with this tug of war, I can only hope that the winners are Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears and the Antiquities Act: whole, healthy and capable of surviving us all.

Sarah Bauman

Sarah Bauman is the executive director for Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, a former Moab City Council member and a member of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Advisory Committee representing conservation.