Esclanate grand staircase

Paxton Scott, Head Editor

 

Two years ago, over spring break, I had the chance to backpack through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah with my dad.

The first mile of our hike was drap; we hiked with a muddy creek on one side and a dirt field on the other. The trailhead lay near the outskirts of the Escalante, a small town in Garfield County. It’s a town sustained by dueling industries: ranching and tourism. As a result, we were walking next to cows.

After the first mile, a change occurred; we stepped over a collapsed barbed wire fence and turned east away from the cow eroded stream bed and towards the pristine rolling red rock of the Escalante monument.

When President Donald Trump split Grand Staircase-Escalante into three separate monuments he effectively decreased the protected area by 46 percent. In addition, the president reduced Bear Ears monument by 85 percent.

Our president justified the reduction, claiming that the cut land was not of “significant scientific or historical significance.”

Like any good businessman, President Trump sees undeveloped land as potential business opportunity—in the particular case of Bear’s Ears an opportunity to make money though uranium mining and cattle grazing.

However, it is a mistake to view protected public land as a unexploited natural resource. Escalante Grand Staircase has intrinsic and long term economic value that President Trump ignored when he halved the size of the western monument.  

The unsullied country that my dad and I hiked across two years ago provided an experience whose value is not tangible. Our backpacking trip cannot be quantified and compared to ranching in a cost benefit analysis. Instead, it’s worth is defined by the memories created and the shared companionship walking all day without seeing another human—intangible, but still very real.

Beyond the intrinsic values, Grand Staircase-Escalante brings tourism to the region.

According to research by Headwaters Economics, a think tank based out of Montana, between 2001 and 2015 the in communities surrounding Grand Staircase-Escalante saw a 13 percent population increase, 32 percent increase in personal income and a 24 percent increase in jobs.

The short term economic gains of mining uranium or cattle grazing in Utah will be smaller than the long term value of tourism in the region. Mining represents a finite resource, while tourism as a result of the monument will continue as long as Grand Staircase-Escalante remains an enclave of untouched sandstone canyons and vistas.

By land area, the United States has the most public land of any country in the world at 640 million acres and the most protected land at 1.3 million acres.

Although the effects may be slow, reducing protected public land will result in more barbed wire fencing, more eroded stream beds and the slow annihilation of the beauty that makes this nation truly great.

President Trump claims that the land he cut from the monument was of no “historical significance,” yet its mere existence is historically significant. Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the the places that has been relatively untouched by humans since its creation.

The reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are not isolated events, but rather the beginning of a movement. In a December fifth memo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended eight other monuments be resized because of their restrictions, according to President Trump, on “hunting, ranching and responsible economic development.”

In my opinion the only responsible economic development in National Monuments is none at all. Let us protect the intrinsic and long-term economic value of these monuments so that our descendants may experience the same untouched wilderness that our forefathers walked across while developing this nation.

 

Some argue that America is set apart by our heritage. Yet, the earliest European immigrant came over a mere 300 years ago and since then people have migrated here from around the world.

Others argue that our freedom is America’s distinguishing factor. We may have been the first to experiment with democracy but certainly not the only country to do so or even the most successful.

I argue that what makes America Great is our commitment to public land and preservation. By land area, the United States has the most public land of any country in the world at 640 million acres and the  protected land at 1.3 million acres.

The legacy goes back to  During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt  

 

The only uranium processing company in the United States, Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc. sits on the border of Bears Ears.

 

The Washington Post discovered a letter from Mark Chalmers, the Chief Operating Officer of the uranium firm, who wrote that the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument “could affect existing and future mill operations.”

 

“There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”