Monumental opposition to a monumental proposal?


Obama’s second term has not yet begun and already folks are heaping on environmental demands – things that may have been politically untenable for the centrist president to do in the long run-up to a tough election where the economy and energy policy hogged the spotlight.

Last month, the Outdoor Industries Association – a trade group representing a passel of different recreation industries, many of whose products depend on public lands’ good condition – sent a letter endorsed by over 100 businesses asking Obama to invoke the Antiquities Act and designate 1.4 million acres around Utah’s Canyonlands National Park as the Greater Canyonlands National Monument. (Find a copy of the petition at the bottom of this article.)

The move is a direct response to Utah’s determination to wrest control of federal lands from the feds (see HCN’s cover story on the OIA’s and Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf’s conservation efforts for details). It also dovetails with conservationists’ attempt to get around Congressional deadlock on designating any new wilderness (the 112th is on track to be the only Congress since 1966 to not designate a single acre) by calling on the president to protect land with monuments instead.

The border of the proposed monument encompasses not only the national park, but also Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Labyrinth Canyon – a popular boating destination on the Green River, Indian Creek—a popular trad climbing and off-roading area, and the Dirty Devil River, among other treasured spots. The monument designation would confer many of the same protections as national park status, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, heading off threats identified by the letter’s signatory recreationistas – dozens of them based in Utah -- including that many of these scenic and undeveloped places are “inappropriately open” to drilling and mining and that current federal plans “fail to address exploding off-road vehicle use that is damaging riparian areas, cultural sites, soils and solitude.”

The industry was also quick to point out that, according to the Western Governors Association, outdoor recreation spending “in western states alone … equaled almost $256 billion (nearly 40% of the national total) and supported 2.3 million jobs.” Those points were underscored by a recent study from Headwaters Economics, which found that “Western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30 percent of the county’s land base in federal protected status such as national parks, monuments, wilderness, and other similar designations increased jobs by 345 percent over the last 40 years. By comparison, similar counties with no protected federal public lands increased employment by 83 percent.” It’s also worth noting that the OIA’s annual conference in Salt Lake City brings 46,000 people and $42.5 million each year.

“(The monument proposal) is about managing the area for recreation jobs. It’s all about how recreation and resource extraction interact, because the system tends to favor resource extraction,” Ashley Korenblat, the owner of Moab-based Western Spirit Cycling, told the Moab Sun.

This being Utah, of course, the loudest responses from conservative local governments and individuals, as well as the state’s Congressional delegation, have been strongly in opposition.  A group called The Sagebrush Coalition has begun holding meetings in Moab, started a petition drive and is encouraging its backers to boycott recreation businesses that support the proposal. Meanwhile, opposition has also begun to boil up on off-road forums (more of that here and here). And some motorized trade groups are rallying behind as well.

"We certainly hope we don't have another Bill Clinton approach to creating a monument," Utah Governor Gary Herbert said in a prepared statement, according to the Sun. Clinton invoked the Antiquities Act in 1996 on his way out of office to create the 1.9-million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the southeastern part of the state, spurring a local uproar.

Interestingly, though, that sort of opposition to monument designation may not run quite so deep as you might think, despite Utah’s apparent anti-federal leanings. A poll last year conducted by the group formerly known as Republicans for Environmental Protection (now ConservAmerica) found that 69 percent of surveyed Utahns rated Grand Staircase-Escalante as "very good" or "somewhat good,” for Utah, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Meanwhile, only 16 percent rated it "somewhat bad" or "very bad."

Sarah Gilman is HCN’s associate editor.

Image of crack climber at Utah's Indian Creek courtesy of Flickr user climbingcrystal

Dennis Willis
Dennis Willis Subscriber
Dec 04, 2012 01:01 PM
These designations are like giving a kid a flu shot - don't ask them if they want one. Just do it, put up with whining and crying for a few minutes and the kid and society are all better off. All the state complaints to Greater Canyonlands are the same as Arizona's were when TR proclaimed Grand Canyon. The state of Utah and its counties are already on record as opposed to any protective management for any resource values. They say there is nothing special in Utah deserving of special management. (Time to change the welcome signs at the borders to: "keep driving, nothing special here."). If the state refuses to even recognize landscape values, they have no useful place in the discussion. Proclaim away, President Obama - Greater Canyonlands, Cedar Mesa, San Rafael, Tavaputs Plateau.......
Blake Osborn
Blake Osborn Subscriber
Dec 04, 2012 05:36 PM
While it is great to think that any conserved land is seen as a "win", it is also important to remember that democracy has a place in these types of situations. As a 4th generation rural Coloradoan I understand that working with local governments is key to keeping a collaborative framework in place as the base for land dealings.

I favor the national monument, as this is where my values fall, and I believe that land has intrinsic values outside those we place on it. However, pushing a political (as any act of legislation such as this is) agenda down the throats of locals is not the right way to conserve lands. We may not agree with the others but we should at least have a discussion, and vice versa.

It's unfortunate that many outsiders see blind passage as the best way to satisfy their agendas. A truly beneficial solution is good for the local people, AND the nation as a whole.
Jerry King
Jerry King Subscriber
Dec 13, 2012 11:04 PM
My God, where do I start? How much of the reported $256 billion in outdoor recreation spending was from motorized recreationalists? Motorized recreationalists spend a heck of a lot more on their gear and drop a lot more money in the communities that they visit than do hikers or rock climbers. The claim is made that non-metro counties with more than 30% of their land base in federal protected status had much more job growth than counties with no protected lands. What's that old saying? Lies, damn lies, and statistics? Just noting a correlation between protected lands and job growth proves absolutely nothing about any causal relationship. Counties with 30% of their lands in protected status probably also have a lot of adjacent non-protected land that is very attractive to 4-wheelers and trail riders, like, say, the areas around Canyonlands National Park. If the intent of the proposed monument designation is truly about managing the area for recreation jobs, why exclude motorized recreation jobs? It cannot credibly be claimed that there is not enough protected land already in southern Utah to meet the needs of non-motorized recreationalists, not with Canyonlands AND Arches AND Capital Reef AND Bryce Canyon AND Zion AND Grand Staircase-Escalante AND designated wilderness areas outside of the national parks and monument. Yes, offroad vehicle use must be managed to minimize and mitigate impacts, but motorized recreationalists are co-owners of our public lands along with non-motorized recreationalists and have just as legitimate a claim to access and usage. Even where offroading is allowed, it is increasingly being restricted by Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management travel management plans. There is no need for a monument designation. Furthermore, use of the Antiquities Act to change the management objectives for millions of acres of public land by executive fiat, completely bypassing Congress and with no public hearings, is a monumental (pun intended) abuse of executive authority. Those who advocate such an undemocratic exercise of government power would scream bloody murder about lack of due process and public input if the president attempted to open a vast area of currently protected land to resource extraction by a presidential decree.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Dec 16, 2012 10:32 AM
Nice photo of Super Crack.

I’d think that if you truly wanted to protect the deserts of the Canyonlands area you’d want to somehow limit the number of people jet setting in in from around the world to take part in just those sorts of activities which the Outdoor Industries Association seeks to promote. Long distance travel for recreation is unsustainable, and we ruin those places we hope to preserve. No waitressing or hotel cleaning job is worth it.