Grand Staircase-Escalante: ‘New opportunities’ or ‘plan of plunder?’

The reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah continues to draw controversy. New management plans were unveiled Friday, Aug. 23. Photo courtesy of the BLM

A controversial goal to increase economic and recreational opportunities under the Trump administration at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were unveiled Friday in a move that drew a quick and strong response from a number of environmental groups, but state and federal officials lauded the proposed environmental analysis and management plans, according to statements released by the BLM and more than a dozen environmental groups that stand in opposition.

Following three months of public outreach and consultation with stakeholders and tribes, BLM in its statement announced the availability of the environmental analysis and management plans for Grand Staircase and the lands now excluded from the monument boundaries. A “notice of availability” was published in the Federal Register for the Proposed Resource Management Plans (RMPs) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and posted the final documents on the BLM ePlanning website at:

“The proposed plan will provide a foundation for economic opportunity, support job growth, and provide a framework for recreation and other commercial opportunities. The Kanab-Escalante Planning Area (KEPA) lands will provide new opportunities for economic development, job creation, and promote prosperity for the region,” read the statement from the BLM.

Moab resident Kya Marienfeld, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, had this to say about the plan, which she described as “a plan of plunder.” “This illegal plan puts a fine point on the Trump administration’s rapacious vision for America’s public lands,” wrote Marienfeld. “This is a plan of plunder: authorizing rampant chaining of pinyon-juniper forests, unbridled energy development, and a free-for-all of off-road vehicle abuse. Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the nation’s public land crown jewels; it is the quintessentially wild red rock landscape that people from across the country and around the world think of when they dream of visiting southern Utah. President Trump broke the law and defied Congress with his illegal order reducing the monument, and SUWA and its partners will persist with our fight in court to undo this damage and restore full protections to the entire monument ecosystem.”

Sen. Mike Lee, however, said the plan included input from the southern Utahns who live closest to the monument.

“I am glad to see the planning process for the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area moving along, and especially encouraged by the efforts the administration has made to include local voices into the management decisions,” said Sen. Mike Lee. “It is important to protect multiple-use access to these beautiful parts of southern Utah and encourage collaboration with those who are closest to these lands and most impacted by the decisions of how they are managed.”

That is not the sentiment shared by Nicole Croft, executive director of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, who said the plan was drafted not for locals, but for special interests.

“The BLM’s management plan attempts to cement the largest roll-back in public lands protections in American history,” she said in an email. “Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has demonstrated its worth time and time again, through contributions to science, personal discovery and significant economic benefits to our local communities. These lands belong to every American, not just a few special interests.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, like his counterpart Sen. Lee, favored the process, saying he would “continue to advocate for robust local input in public lands matters affecting Utah.” Romney also said the plan looks at multiple interests.

“I appreciate that BLM has committed to providing ample opportunity for community input, which will help ensure that final plans reflect the right balance of economic, recreational and natural resource considerations,” he said.

Nathan Waggoner of Escalante Outfitters disagrees with the two U.S. senators, saying in an email the plan “turns a blind eye” to businesses like his, which embrace a wilderness ethic in favor of companies that would “exploit our public lands.”

“Escalante Outfitters and many other businesses in our gateway communities rely on the protection and preservation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to continue to grow our businesses and support our communities,” said Waggoner. “We are deeply disappointed in the BLM’s new management plan because it turns a blind eye to the concerns of businesses who support a wilderness ethic and it caters to a small band of special interest groups who want to exploit our public lands for short term profits. Given that the litigation to restore the monument to its rightful size is still on-going, the new management plan is a waste of taxpayers money and detrimental to one of America’s last great expanses of wilderness.”

The BLM and others chose Alternative E, which according to the BLM “emphasizes resource uses and reduces constraints while ensuring the proper care and management of monument objects.”