Cristina Harmon: Protect our national monuments
May 17, 2017
While the current review of 27 national monuments initiated by the Trump Administration appears to be a broad effort to involve the public in commenting on and possibly rescinding some of the designations, it is clear to me and many others following the process that the true nature of all this political posturing is to satisfy a loud and unhappy Republican Congressional delegation.
Rather than touring and reviewing all 27 of the National Monuments created since 1996, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke traveled directly to Utah to view the recently created Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument created in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. (Parenthetically, the Denver Post has reported that Secretary Zinke has assured Governor Hickenlooper that these "reviews" will not impact national monuments in Colorado.)
The Utah delegation has long been unhappy with the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument since its creation in 1996, claiming it was a federal takeover and harms Utah's ability to develop these lands for mining, oil and gas and grazing. The truth of the matter is that the Grand Staircase Escalante is still managed by the BLM.
Many uses were grandfathered in, including grazing and existing oil and gas developments. However, the Kaiparowits Plateau within the monument has a seam of coal, now off limits to development.
The tradeoff has been opening an area of incredible beauty to the public to explore and enjoy. And while some claim this has hurt Utah's economy, the increase in visitors and the dollars they spend in the surrounding towns has brought prosperity to Kanab, Boulder and Escalante. Estimates are that visits to Utah's parks and monuments generates $1.3 billion for Utah's economy.
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Bears Ears National Monument protects an area south of Canyonlands National Park and encompassing prior proposals for an addition to the park called Greater Canyonlands. Bears Ears National Monument includes the Beef Basin and Indian Creek to the north and extends down to the San Juan River and Cedar Mesa. There are nearly 100,000 archeological and cultural sites and honors and involves five Native American tribes, who have ancestral claims in the region and, historically, will involve those tribes in the management of the monument.
The Utah delegation would have us believe they will do a better job managing these lands, but past ATV damage, mining and oil and gas development, grazing on delicate dessert ecosystems and pilfering of archeological sites would seem to indicate otherwise.
Those of us who love the recreation, beauty and inspiration of these areas of Southern Utah have worked for years to protect these iconic landscapes. We are currently in a short 15-day comment period on Bears Ears, which ends May 26 and a 60-day comment period for the rest of the 26 monuments under review.
Comments may be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov by entering DOI-2017-0002 in the search bar and clicking search or by mail to Monument Reviews, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington D.C. 20240. You may also call the Department of the Interior at 202-208-7351.