Switchback- Should the Greater Canyonlands Area be Protected?

Recently, the Outdoor Industry Association submitted a
letter to President Obama asking for greater protection for the Canyonlands
area of Utah, essentially asking the President to utilize the Antiquities Act
to designate an additional1.4 million acres of federal wildlands surrounding
Canyonlands National Park as a national monument. More than 100 outdoor related
businesses signed the letter, including 40 from Utah.  Proponents of the measure argue that the land
is under pressure from increasing development from extraction industries and
off-road vehicle abuse. Also, that the value of a recreation based economy is
worth more to the State. Opponents are fearful of locking up the land to
development and how it will affect local communities, and that the Federal
Government is wrong to make monument designations without congressional
approval. Locally, State Sen. Jim Dabakis introduced legislation to establish a
process to gather input locally on creating the monument with invoking the
Federal Government. At the same time, U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart has introduced a
bill requiring any new national monument must be approved by congress.

Local Communities and Congress Should Work Together

By U.S. Congressman Chris Stewart

Over the last month, the topic of land use and national monuments has come up again and again
in the media. On February 5th, former Interior Secretary, Bruce
Babbitt made a statement at the Washington Press Club that urged the President
to make “vigorous” use the Antiquities Act to designate new national monuments
in the West. Specifically in Utah, there has been much discussion as to whether
the Greater Canyonlands should be designated as a national monument.

Currently, 66
percent of the state of Utah is owned by the federal government in the form of
national forests, wilderness areas, national parks, BLM land, and national
monuments. Compare that statistic to most central or eastern states, where barely
four percent of the land is federally owned. Utah has uniquely beautiful lands
that are indeed worthy of protection, but we need to be careful about how and
when we make those designations. We need to consider the input of nearby
communities and understand how the land has been used throughout its history.

National monuments, unlike wilderness areas, national forests, national parks, and other
designations, don’t require Congressional approval. The Antiquities Act of 1906
gives the president the power to simply declare land a national monument. The
original intent was to protect historic landmarks; structures with specific
reference to archeological resources.  The
Act further states that the limit of these monuments, “in all cases shall be
confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the
objects to be protected.” Sadly, over the years, that limited power has morphed
into huge Presidential decrees with no input from Congress or the local
communities most impacted by the designation.

In 1996, President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with no input
from affected communities or even from the State of Utah. At 1.9 million acres,
the Grand Staircase was much larger than any National Monument created by the
Antiquities Act before it. This fact created management complications for the
National Park Service, the agency traditionally given jurisdiction over
National Monuments. Accordingly, the President took the unprecedented action of
leaving the Monument within the jurisdiction of the BLM.  Due to this decision, there has been very
limited development in or around the Monument to increase visitation. Uses have
been generally limited within the Monument to non-motorized recreation. Other
uses have been intentionally excluded.  Although
it is argued that Monument has created economic growth in the area, the economic
impacts of the Monument are clearly in dispute. For instance, the Mayor of the town
of Escalante notes that population in his town has actually decreased since the
creation of the Monument.  Moreover, allegations
of economic growth do not provide adequate comparisons with the economic
activity that would have been generated through motorized recreation, mineral
extraction, and energy development that may have occurred in the absence of the
Monument.

The Grand Staircase Escalante provides a stark reminder of the massive power wielded by
the federal government at local expense. As a member of the House Natural
Resources Committee’s Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee, I
am committed to protect our natural heritage. But I firmly believe that our
view of this heritage must include the people who live on and near these lands,
whose families have lived and preserved them for hundreds of years.  I believe that we can preserve our natural
heritage best by striking a balance between local understanding, economic
needs, state sovereignty and the federal government in preserving and properly
maintaining our state’s unique landscape. Let me be clear. I am not stating
that there are no further areas of Utah that merit enhanced protection. Rather,
I simply believe that such designations must be carefully considered and not
performed by the stroke of the President’s pen.

In light of this, I just introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives called the
Utah Land Sovereignty Act. The bill requires new national monuments
in Utah to have the approval of Congress. I believe it is only through
congressional representatives that the people, both those who have lived on the
land for generations and those who wish to enjoy it for a shorter time, will be
heard regarding this important national resource. This Utah exemption is not without
precedent. Because of past abuses of the Antiquities Act in Wyoming and Alaska,
legislators from those states were successful in exempting those states from
the Antiquities Act. The Utah Land Sovereignty Act simply adds Utah to that
list.

We do have areas in Utah that are worthy of protection, but protection of these lands
should happen with the approval of Congress, instead of through the Antiquities Act.

Congressman Chris Stewart represents Utah’s Second Congressional District.

Protect Canyonlands

By Utah Senator Jim Dabakis

For many generations, Utahns and visitors from all around the world have explored the
unimaginable wonder and glorious hidden treasures of Greater Canyonlands.
Families pass on experiences of discovery to their children and their
children’s children in hopes that the natural masterpieces will inspire and
educate.  Not only does it draw in tourists
and visitors, half a million every year, to witness the beautiful natural
arches, caves and mesas, but it also produces great economic advantages for the
outdoor recreation industry and surrounding local businesses. This is why it is
essential for the people of Utah to protect the public access of these lands,
protect our Utah Heritage, and begin a transparent discussion with all the
stakeholders about how to accomplish these goals.

Maintaining the economic revenue that Canyonlands produces is essential to our daily lives and the lives of people
all around Utah because the outdoor recreation industry significantly adds to
our economy and it draws tourism to help local business and produce tax
revenue. Every year, the outdoor recreation industry adds $5.8 billion to
Utah’s economy, creates 65,000 jobs, produces $4 billion in sales tax revenues
and $300 million in taxes. Not only does it directly affect the economy, but it
also adds to local businesses and restaurants that flourish due to the scenery
they are fortunate enough to live by.

Utah’s Canyonlands have been intertwined with Utah’s heritage since the days of the pioneers, and
must be preserved for many the proud Utahns who are to come. Utah was founded
on its pioneering spirit and independence that developed in the open frontier.
As proud citizens of the state, we should be focusing on keeping the traditions
and foundations alive for the rest of Utah to enjoy. This means to protect the
very lands that past Utahns used to enjoy and insuring that it will remain the
beautiful landmark that makes Utah proud. .

This is why, as proud Utah citizens and sons and daughters of Utah’s pioneers, we must open the
dialogue on protecting the Greater Canyonlands area – in a way that works best
for Utah.  We want a process that
promotes cooperation on all levels of government, local community involvement
and public participation on how to preserve the recreational use and enjoyment
of the land. We want to keep communications open with the federal government – because
we know what is best for Utah.

We need to show our representatives and those in D.C. that we are ready to talk and fight for the
protection of our great lands.

Jim Dabakis represents the state’s 2nd senate district. He also serves as chairman of the Utah Democratic
Party.

Leave a Reply