Others who support the possible monument held their own rally nearby, carrying signs urging the monument’s creation and protesting a variety of types of mineral exploration on public lands.
The Outdoor Industry Association sent a letter to President Barack Obama in November asking him to establish the Greater Canyonlands National Monument. The Grand County Council soon followed with its own letter to Obama, urging against the possible change.
James W. Tibbetts, chairman of the Sagebrush Coalition’s board of directors, said Monday that the demonstration was designed, in part, to protest the potential loss of revenue from the area.
“When the Outdoor Industry Association sent the letter to President Obama, they neglected to mention there is an active oilfield in the greater Canyonlands that has been active since the ’50s and ’60s,” he said. “There are 155,000 acres of state trust land inside [greater Canyonlands]. Those trust lands were specifically designed to fund our education system and pay our teachers.
“Since this fight began in the ’70s, everybody has tried to negotiate with these environmental groups, and since then, 3.2 million acres of de facto wilderness have been added on Bureau of Land Management land just in Utah.”
Tibbetts added that 2 trillion tons of low sulfur coal was taken off the market when President Bill Clinton declared the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
“Someone told me that’s 200 jobs for 2,000 years,” Tibbetts said.
Besides the loss of revenue, the Moab-based coalition is concerned about loss of access, he said.
“Whether it’s for hunting, fishing or camping, it’s multiple-use land,” Tibbetts said. “This is where we grew up. What is it [environmentalists] are trying to protect and from who?”
Coalition member Dennis Lightfoot said the gathering wasn’t huge, but it was not intended to draw lots of people. Instead, the coalition wanted to voice its feeling to motorists driving past. Approximately a dozen Sagebrush Coalition members were at the event, which was held on private land on Mill Creek Drive.
“Most people were taking part in the fun of Jeep Safari,” he said. “We got a lot of honks and waves as people went by.”
Neal Clark, an attorney for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said those favoring monument designation felt it was important to hold the counter-demonstration. Approximately 60 people took part in the counter-rally, SUWA officials said. Although representatives from some conservation groups were involved, Clark said the rally was a grassroots effort to show opposition to oil extractions in greater Canyonlands.
“It was to show that unaffiliated locals want to protect this land for the future,” he said.
Clark added that monument status would not force a land exchange between federal and state governments.
“A monument designation wouldn’t change land ownership status within the monument,” he said. “SITLA [School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration] would remain owner of the land.”
Clark said the effort to delare a Greater Canyonlands National Monument “is not about closing roads. It’s not about keeping people from driving vehicles. It’s about the ongoing pressure we’re facing from resource extraction.”