By John Gilroy
Just a day after President Donald Trump significantly diminished the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) introduced legislation that would reduce the protections on this unique landscape even further.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante Enhancement Act (H.R. 4558) mirrors President Trump's proclamation by creating three smaller national monuments and one national park that together would preserve roughly 60 percent of the landscape that has been safeguarded by the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument since its inception in 1996.
All major management decisions about the park and the monument would not be made by the National Park Service or other professional federal land managers. Instead, the management plans for each would be developed and implemented by a newly created "management council" of seven people, including four local county commissioners and one Utah state representative.
Most Utahans backed the national monument
The two-decades-old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was supported by local business owners, science communities, sportsmen and Utahans across the state. According to a bipartisan 2016 poll, residents believe—by a margin larger than 2-to-1—that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was good for their state. During the Trump administration's national monument review, 99 percent of the nearly 3 million comments submitted expressed support for maintaining or expanding national monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante.
The monument is good for Utah's economy
Future discoveries lost
"The Kaiparowits Plateau in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been called 'the Shangri-La of dinosaurs' for the many skeletons of these enormous creatures that have been unearthed, including 21 previously unknown species. The remains of the oldest, an 81 million-year-old tyrannosaurus—Lythronax argestes—were recovered from the plateau just four years ago. Reducing this monument's boundaries by more than 40 percent to allow for development will do serious harm not only to scientific exploration but also to the livelihood of the local community, which has grown and thrived from tourism since the monument was designated in the red rock countryside of southern Utah more than 20 years ago."
De facto transfer of public landsThe management council that this legislation proposes would take land management decisions out of the hands of the public and give it to just seven people—four county commissioners from Utah's Kane and Garfield counties, a Utah state legislator who represents those counties, an Interior Department employee, and an appointee of the president. It would set a disturbing precedent for the management of federal land by handing all major management decisions in the national monuments and a national park over to a management council that is heavily weighted with a majority of local and state elected officials.
The Pew Charitable Trusts opposes H.R. 4558 and is urging members of Congress to reject this legislation.
John Gilroy directs The Pew Charitable Trusts' U.S. public lands program.