Outdoor Industry Groups Urge President Obama To Create 1.4-Million-Acre National Monument Around Canyonlands National Park

President Obama is being urged to create a 1.4-million-acre national monument around Canyonlands National Park. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance graphic.

President Obama is being urged by a broad coalition of outdoor recreation businesses to create a 1.4-million-acre national monument around Canyonlands National Park in Utah to preserve a "world-class landscape."

In a letter (attached below) sent to the president, the coalition organized by the Outdoor Industry Association said the greater Canyonlands area "is without question a world-class landscape deserving of the highest levels of protection. It is a place of unparalleled beauty, a geologic wonderland and a treasure trove of ancient cultural and archeological artifacts. Greater Canyonlands also offers superlative recreational opportunities that draw people from around the globe."

This is not the first effort to protect the public lands that surround Canyonlands. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Grand Canyon Trust long have promoted protection for the "sweeping plateaus, stunning geologic formations, 10,000 year old archeological sites, and unmatched natural beauty" that surround the national park.

The area the groups are promoting for monument status is vast, running west from Canyonlands to Hanksville, south to wrap Natural Bridges National Monument, east to parallel U.S. 191, and north towards Interstate 70.

The move, however, almost certainly would be opposed by Utah's congressional delegation and governor. U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, just re-elected, chairs the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands and has been a vocal opponent of federal land ownership and management. A spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, who also was just re-elected by a landslide, told the Salt Lake Tribune that any expansion of Canyonlands should be done by statute, not presidential pen.

This tableau of red-rock country has never lived up to the expectations of those who set their eyes on the landscape and saw not a wasteland but rather a cataclysm of earth, water, and sky that should be protected and enjoyed as a national park.

As early as 1936, 28 years before Canyonlands National Park was actually created, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes envisioned an "Escalante National Monument" of nearly 4.5 million acres, a behemoth that would encompass a good deal of Utah's southeastern corner south of Green River and east of Torrey. Not until the 1960s did the idea of a national park in this corner of Utah return, and it led, after much horse-trading, to a 257,000-acre Canyonlands National Park that was created in 1964.

But the creation of Canyonlands, which grew a bit through the years with the addition of the Horseshoe Canyon annex, didn't settle the debate over exactly how big the park should be. It was revived most recently in the late 1980s by the National Parks Conservation Association, and again in the early 1990s when then-Superintendent Walt Dabney endorsed "completing" the park by stretching its boundaries to the surrounding rims of the basin created by the Colorado and Green rivers.

But in highly conservative Utah, where many resent the federal government's land ownership in large part because they see it as an impediment to economic development, the movement to enlarge Canyonlands has never gathered much steam.

The OIA, with the support of more than 100 businesses ranging from Moab outfitters to a Swiss-based gear manufacturer, is pushing back against that opposition.

"Many of us know and love the Greater Canyonlands area firsthand, and would like to see the area preserved because it is a premier part of our nation’s natural heritage," read the letter sent Tuesday to the president. "But as people who make their living in the outdoor industry, we also want to stress that preserving landscapes like Greater Canyonlands makes good economic sense. Wildlands are the foundational infrastructure for our industry.

"A study recently released by the Outdoor Industry Association notes that outdoor recreation is 'an overlooked economic giant,' generating $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011 and supporting 6.1 million jobs, powering the economy in a manner comparable to the financial services and insurance industries or outpatient health care. As highlighted by the Western Governors Association, in western states alone outdoor recreation spending equaled almost $256 billion (nearly 40% of the national total) and supported 2.3 million jobs. The future of our outdoor recreation economy depends on protecting iconic landscapes – such as Greater Canyonlands – where people go to recreate. And monument proclamation is an important and effective way to provide the protection that is needed."

In urging the president to use the Antiquities Act to create the monument, the OIA group said the area around Canyonlands is endangered because "(F)ederal land use plans inappropriately open scenic and undeveloped land to drilling and mining and fail to address exploding off-road vehicle use that is damaging riparian areas, cultural sites, soils and solitude."

"Now, the state of Utah is demanding that the federal government turn over 30 million acres of federal land for potential development and/or privatization and is asserting the right to expand and pave 40,000 miles of dirt routes and trails that crisscross Utah’s federally-owned wildlands," the letter continues. "Both actions would result in the despoiling of Greater Canyonlands."

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