A couple of weeks ago in downtown Salt Lake City, the Trump administration announced a dramatic reduction in size of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The blowback from supporters of National Monument protection was swift, and fierce.
Patagonia’s response was the most prominent, as they ran a simple, yet forceful digital ad proclaiming “The President Stole Your Land” in bold white letters on a black background.
While much of the outcry was around Bears Ears due to both its recent designation under the Obama administration (which clearly Trump is trying to undue at every turn) and the fact that five Native American tribes came together to forge the agreement for management of the new monument, it was actually the shrinking of Grand Staircase that initially angered me the most. Now, don’t get me wrong, while I am really agitated about Bears Ears, especially due to the overt disrespect shown to the tribes who have called this land home for centuries, the fact that the administration would reverse a National Monument designation that had been in place for more than two decades was a bitter pill to swallow.
The day after President Trump’s announcement in Salt Lake, a news story came out about a new proposal for Grand Staircase, proposed by Utah Representative Chris Stewart, which would create a new National Park and three new monuments from the former Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument, and while that may sound good on the surface, the details are much different than the initial talking points.
The proposed legislation (H.R. 4558) creates a “Management Council” that would determine the management plan for all lands, including the new Park. The bill states: “Federal land managers shall adhere to the management plans created by the Management Council.” The Management Council shall consist of 7 members: 2 members from Kane County, 2 members from Garfield County, 1 Utah state representative, 1 Dept. of Interior representative, and 1 at large representative. In effect, this bill hands complete control of these lands to the State of Utah while all Americans fund the operating costs. That’s right, roughly 12,000 people in Garfield and Kane Counties will decide how these lands are managed, what is allowed and not allowed, while 330 million Americans pay for their decisions. To add insult to injury, the bill requires the Federal Government to transfer ownership of Hole in the Rock road to the State of Utah for FREE.
This opens the door to a lot of potential harm on these lands – more oil and gas development? More mining, grazing and logging? More fences, shutting off hiking, climbing, fishing and hunting access? It’s all up for grabs.
Now, in some ways, this too may not sound so bad, except that it is exactly the kind of theft that people have been warning that could happen if this federal land transfer business were allowed to commence. To add even more insult to injury, a friend of mine forwarded me a short video clip of some testimony between Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock, and a U.S. House of Representatives Federal Lands Subcommittee.
The upshot? This is exactly what conservationists and the outdoor industry have feared about a federal lands transfer since the days of James Watt (President Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior.) This bill, and the people behind this theft, have shown their true intent.