If environmentalists were to characterize the Trump administration’s management of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in song, it would be American composer Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”
To ensure this song doesn’t stay the same, environmentalists are protesting a budget proposal that would cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency and require the Bureau of Land Management to monitor Grand Staircase under Trump administration rules, despite groundbreaking changes to the memorial imposed by President Joe Biden.
Against opposition from 50 environmental groups, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Home Affairs, Environment and Related Agencies Bill for Fiscal Year 2024, which the House Budget Committee passed in July and is expected to vote by the full House of Representatives in September, would: the BLM’s hands tie two basic ways.
First, it would prevent the BLM from administering the national monument under Proclamation 10286, in which President Joe Biden restored the Grand Staircase to its original 1996 boundaries. This action came in October 2021 and reversed former President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to halve the monument’s size from 1.9 million to approximately 900,000 acres. The bill requires the BLM to manage the approximately 1.9 million acres of the memorial under the plan, which was completed after Trump’s reduction of the memorial.
Second, the proposed budget would prevent the BLM from using any of its funds to implement its proposed Public Lands Rule, which would put conservation on an equal footing with extraction, grazing and other uses of the land.
“The current House budget proposal would be extremely damaging to Utah’s public lands,” said Travis Hammill, director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in Washington, DC, in a press release. “The bill would undermine management within the restored boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by restricting funding and effectively pretending the Trump Monument reduction is still in effect.”
Hammill added that the bill would also “override the BLM’s proposed Public Lands Rule, which aims to create a level playing field between conservation and extraction to ensure that our shared lands and waters are safe for wildlife, natural and cultural.” Resources and enjoyment of the flow are managed.” and future generations. Lawmakers should focus on funding our state land stewardship agencies, not implementing hugely unpopular policies from purses.”
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, whose district includes Grand Staircase, did not respond to requests for comment on the bill. The office of Utah Congressman John Curtis also declined to comment, noting that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is in Stewart’s district.
However, Curtis has shown no such reluctance in the past, particularly in his opposition to the Public Lands Rule, which would allow conservation to be considered uses of the land and create “conservation leases” that would accompany established uses of BLM land grazing, mining and logging.
In July, Curtis introduced a bill that would force the BLM to rescind the rule, which he and other Republicans believe could potentially destroy grazing, mining and recreation taking place on federally administered lands in the West.
In a press release last May, Curtis said the Public Lands Rule would “undermine the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, recreational businesses and more in Utah.” In the same press release, Curtis said, “This rule seeks to lock down those precious lands that should be open and accessible to the public.”
Kya Marienfeld, SUWA’s wildland attorney, called the Utah congressional delegation’s lack of support for the state’s public lands disappointing, but adds that opposition is offset by more enlightened congressmen who actively support the Grand Staircase and other public lands.
Conversely, Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock leaves no doubt as to where he stands, noting that he has worked with Congressman Stewart’s office to cut funding for the BLM and other agencies and their ability to implement Biden’s environmental agenda to restrict.
In particular, Pollack targets BLM’s draft resource management plan. When Biden restored the Grand Staircase’s original boundaries set by President Bill Clinton in September 1996, he commissioned the BLM to develop a new resource management plan that would restore many of the protections put in place prior to the monument’s reduction.
Pollack said the proposed budget aims to halt implementation of the new management plan, which he says will wipe out grazing, bankrupt ranchers and farmers, close some roads and stop the use of ATVs, and eliminate target shooting.
“I grew up in the Grand Staircase,” Pollock said. “It’s not like a national park like Bryce Canyon. There are all kinds of pastures and open lands where no one ever goes. I learned how to plink with a .22 [rifle] and filmed with my father when I was in kindergarten.
“We went out, hunted rabbits and shot at targets,” he continued. “It’s been a way of life for many, many generations. [The BLM] wants to eliminate target shooting on 50% of this monument and that will piss off the public too.”
The BLM presented its draft resource management plan on August 11 and is accepting public comments until November 9, 2023. The plan consists of four alternatives that would govern the future management of the monument.
Alternative A, dubbed the “no-action alternative,” would essentially retain the Trump-era plan unless it specifically contradicts safeguards put in place by Clinton and Biden. Alternative B offers a few more safeguards. Alternative D is the most restrictive and calls for, among other things, the closure of additional roads, restricting more grazing and recreational uses, and eliminating target shooting anywhere within the Grand Staircase boundaries.
Alternative C is the preferred alternative according to Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah BLM.
Four administrative areas would be set up in the monument. The front land area would allow for visitor centers, information sites, highway overlooks, as well as developed hiking trails, trailheads, and campgrounds. Focusing on the transit area would provide visitors with more limited and less developed daytime and overnight options.
In the outback area, facilities would be scarce and provided only when required for the protection of heritage resources or public safety. Infrastructure and motorized access would be almost non-existent in the most restrictive primeval area.
In addition, target shooting would be prohibited under Alternative C from the Frontland and Primitive areas, and in the Transit and Outback areas within a quarter mile of residences, campgrounds and developed recreational facilities. Off-highway vehicle traffic would be restricted to designated routes and prohibited from primitive territory.
Marienfeld said that’s a stark contrast to the Trump plan, which would have nothing closed to ATV use. “In a conservation area, you can drive where you want, and that’s wild,” she said.
The BLM will be taking public contributions at Zoom meetings scheduled for September 6th and October 25th. The details of this will be announced later. The public can also attend face-to-face meetings on the following dates and locations:
September 20, 2023, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Escalante Interagency Visitor Center, 755 W. Main St., Escalante.
October 4, 2023, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Kanab Center, Ballroom A, 20 N. 100 East, Kanab.
Oct. 18, 2023, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Panguitch Elementary School, 110 p. 100 West, Panguitch.