Managing the monument: The devil is in the details

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to a feature story.

If it survives expected legal challenges, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will in all likelihood stop the industrialization of the Kaiparowits Plateau. While the proclamation creating the monument did not take away Andalex's right to mine its rich coal fields, federal land managers acknowledge that the company will probably not be able to obtain rights-of-way for roads and utilities to the remote site.

Environmentalists say Andalex would be wise to follow the lead of PacifiCorp, the only other company holding leases in the area. Just days before the president created the monument, PacifiCorp officials announced the company had struck a deal with the Interior Department to trade out its leases for other federal property.

Although the mine question may be settled soon, how the land should be managed is not. Clinton's team left plenty of space for that debate when it drew up plans for the monument designation.

The new monument will be the first in the country to be managed not by the National Park Service but by the current landlord, the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM will continue to oversee it, with grazing, hunting and other traditional uses of the land remaining unchanged. That should smooth things out some with locals, says Don Banks with the Utah state office of the BLM in Salt Lake City.

"I'd be lying to say that this isn't going to be a tremendous challenge," says Banks. "But we have our people in place, and we have pretty good relations with the local governments and private communities."

How the BLM balances protection of the area's vast natural and cultural resources with traditional users and growing numbers of backpackers, mountain bikers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts, will be decided in a three-year public process concluding with a management plan. Clinton emphasized that local and state involvement will be essential to the process.

Environmentalists said they hope the eventual plan will downplay the need for new roads and facilities for tourists, leaving it much as it is today, a remote, difficult-to-reach desert wilderness. In fact, they still hope to win wilderness designation for much of the monument. That angers Kane County attorney Colin Winchester. "If the replacement for the mine is tourism, then why do they want to take away that, too?"

The BLM's Banks says monument status will force the agency to beef up its presence in the area, and assess how to improve its limited visitor facilities to accommodate more people.

The proclamation explicitly says there will be no federal reserved water right attached to the monument; and it calls for all school-trust lands contained within the boundaries to be swapped for federal holdings of comparable value elsewhere.

Utah Rep. Bill Orton, the state's only Democratic member of Congress, said that with so many concessions the president is left with a "hollow monument."

But for environmentalists, stopping coal development was the big prize. Said Ken Rait of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, "Ask Andalex how hollow this monument is."