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Traveler's View: Proposed Monument Around Canyonlands National Park Deserves Serious Consideration

Kane Creek Canyon near Moab would be protected under a proposal to create a 1.4-million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument. Photos accompanying this article also depict landscapes that would fall within the proposed monument. Photos by Bret Edge, Bret Edge Photography.

A proposal to create a 1.4-million-acre national monument wrapping Canyonlands National Park in Utah should not be dismissed out of hand, but receive serious consideration from the Obama administration. And it should receive equally serious consideration from Utah officials who promote the state's recreational wonders in one breath and demand a handover of federal lands in the next.

The current proposal for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument is not a move to "lock up" these lands, but rather seen as a way to provide for multiple recreational use and help smooth out economic bumps by bringing into the region tourist dollars, wealthy retirees, and "knowledge workers" who often can work from home.

Ashely Korenblat, who owns Western Spirit Cycling, a Moab, Utah, bike shop, said that under the proposal no Jeep routes or mountain bike trails would be closed. While the proposal envisions a ban on energy development, it also sees a sprawling national monument that would lure outdoor recreationalists of many stripes to southern Utah.

"We need the monument to protect the landscape that makes these roads and trails worth experiencing, and to keep us on the path of consistent and sustainable economic development that doesn’t rely on more speculative technologies or fluctuate with worldwide commodity prices," she says.

Utah's Branding As An Outdoor Recreational Capital

When you consider the idea, it actually goes hand-in-hand with the state government's approach to luring businesses. This is the state that long campaigned for a Winter Olympics, won the right to host the 2002 Games, and afterwards viewed and promoted itself as a winter sports capital for training and competitions.

Ogden, a short drive north of Salt Lake City, boasts that it "has become known around the globe for its high adventure recreation and high-energy outdoor lifestyle." Along the way towards building that description, the city persuaded Descente, DNA, Salomon, Suunto, Atomic, Goode Ski Technologies, Peregrine, Kahuna Creations, Scott USA, and Rossignol to relocate to Ogden. Goode officials say they moved to Ogden specifically to be within a short drive of both "world-class snow and water skiing."

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Pothole and Sandstone Buttes at Sunset. Photo by Bret Edge, Bret Edge Photography.

Peter Metcalf, owner of Black Diamond Equipment, a gear-manufacturing company, relocated his business from California to the Salt Lake Valley specifically to be close to the climbing routes of the Wasatch Range and the canyoneering landscape farther south.

“We are here because of the inspiration and the creativity our employees derive from being here," he says.

Utah's ties with the outdoor recreation industry go back years, thanks to the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer conventions held in Salt Lake City. These shows bring together gear manufacturers and retailers for multi-day get-togethers that leave behind some $42.5 million a year.

To further burnish Utah's reputation as a world-class destination for outdoor recreation, the Outdoor Industry Association and more than 100 recreation-oriented businesses from across the world last fall reached out to President Obama to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to create a 1.4-million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument.

The protection a monument would provide the landscape would be a step down from that provided through an expansion of the national park, and in that regard the proposal can be viewed as a compromise to those in Utah who view the federal landscape with distaste.

Completing Canyonlands

It's long been suggested that Canyonlands itself needs to be "completed." 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 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 there is a resentment over the federal government's land ownership because it is viewed as an impediment to economic development, the movement to enlarge Canyonlands has never gathered much steam.

There have been petitions in recent years to protect the "greater Canyonlands" region, and late last year the push took a bigger step when the OIA coalition promoted for the Greater Canyonlands monument a vast landscape of U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands running west from Canyonlands to Hanksville, south to wrap Natural Bridges National Monument, east to parallel U.S. 191, and north towards Interstate 70.

That proposal stirred much debate in and around Moab, Utah, the gateway to both Canyonlands and Arches national parks. So much debate that some of the businesses that signed on in support of the OIA proposal were tagged for a boycott on a Facebook page, Sagebrush Coalition.

Some opponents to the OIA proposal suggest that instead of asking President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create such a monument, that an "upfront, full dialogue and discussion" of the proposal be held. Unfortunately, talk of designating national monuments is a nonstarter in Utah's current political makeup, where officials instead want the federal government to hand over public lands to the state.

The Facebook page against the proposal and against the Moab-area businesses in support of it demonstrates the lack of interest in considering the proposal. Plus, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on national parks and public lands, likely isn't interested in discussing the matter, either. His work during the 112th Congress and his comments show he would rather see the federal government relinquish its holdings in the West.

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Tuk Arch, photo by Bret Edge, Bret Edge Photography.

What's At Stake

What's at stake in seriously considering a monument on the landscape adjacent to Canyonlands?

Mr. Bishop has long supported increased energy exploration on public lands in Utah, including tar sands development. Unfortunately, a recent NPR report on the pollution from such development in Alberta, Canada, demonstrates that this is anything but a clean industry, and the water it would take to develop in Utah, the second-most arid state in the nation, is troubling.

Too, what would be lost by allowing more energy development here? For starters, the raw beauty of the landscape would be at risk. Wildlife would suffer, too, from networks of oilfield roads. And what about the unknowns that inhabit the landscape. A long-running inventory of all species -- plant, animal, insect, fungi, fish, reptile, etc, etc, -- within Great Smoky Mountains National Park has turned up not only some 8,000 species previously unknown residents, but also more than 900 previously unknown to science.

What can be gained is not only protection of a wondrous landscape, but a strengthened regional economy, one not subject to energy booms and busts.

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Studies show that protected federal lands help the local economies. Headwaters Economics graphic.

According to Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonpartisan research organization, "(P)er-capita income in Western non-metropolitan counties with protected public lands is higher than in other similar counties. For every gain of 10,000 acres of protected public land, per-capita income in that county in 2010 was on average $436 higher. So a county with 50,000 acres of protected public lands was $2,180 higher; while one with 100,000 acres of protected public lands would have a $4,360 higher per capita income in 2010. For perspective, that same year the average per capita income for non-metro Western counties was $34,870."

Further more, that study found that "from 1970 to 2010, Western non-metro counties with more than 30 percent of their land base in federal protected status increased jobs by 345 percent. As the share of federal lands in protected status goes down, the rate of job growth declines as well. Western non-metro counties with no protected federal land increased jobs by 83 percent."

To ignore these risks, and realities, would be a disservice not only to Utahns, but to all Americans. 

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Sounds like a good idea to me, but.....I would like to see Obama use the Antiquities Act to protect the more underrepresented ecosystems in the NPS system. Good candidates include the Nevada/Oregon Owyhee Canyonlands, Maine woods, Montana's northern prairie, etc.

The Act would require Congressional approval of NM status. Oh my, how Draconian.

This is from this morning's NPS Digest: "H.R. 250 (Chaffetz, R-UT-3), to amend the Antiquities Act of 1906 to place additional requirements on the establishment of national monuments under that Act, and for other purposes."

I tried to find more information but was unable to find anything. There is nothing in Thomas and nothing even on Chafetz's own website. But both Chafetz and his mentor, Rob Bishop, have stated that they are dedicated to "demolishing" the Antiquities Act.

Chafetz is starting his second term in Congress. Previous to this election, he did not even live in the district he was supposed to represent, but some very creative gerrymandering following the last census fixed that and helped cement his re-election.

Chafetz is being groomed by Rob Bishop to become one more Congresscritter who will oppose anything to do with Federal management of Utah Federal lands and any Federal "intrusions" into other western states. Bishop, being chair of the Natural Resources Committee, made certain that Jason was appointed to serve on that committee.

Among other things, Jason is known for some extremely right-wing stances -- some of which extend into possible tinfoil hat territory. For example, he supports and has urged that 9/11 must receive much closer investigation because of the "possibility" that it was an inside job and that sinister forces within our own government were responsible.

Probably the only reason Chafetz was re-elected -- or elected in the first place -- is due to the Utah GOP's unusual system of candidate selection. An intricate net of very carefully controlled "neighborhood caucuses" lead to a state party convention. This system allows a very small number of very loyal party members (read Tea Party) to select candidates. Once a candidate is on the ballot with a big letter R beside their name, election is almost assured. Utah has the highest percentage of straight ticket voters in the nation. It also has the highest percentage of people who listen religiously to such folks as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and other stars of hate radio.

Utah's lone Democrat in Congress, Jim Matheson, was re-elected, but probably only on a fluke. Gerrymandering to assure Rob Bishop's place in Congress may have backfired and resulted in the defeat of Matheson's opponent, one Mia Love who was local Tea Party darling.

There is hope out there, though. Bishop beat opponent Donna McAleer by the narrowest margin in his history. Ms. McAleer (a graduate of West Point among other things), has vowed to run again -- continuing to campaign until the next election. Very possibly the only reason she didn't win this time was because a lack of money kept her from becoming well enough known to voters.

Life in Utah is interesting -- to say the least.

So every place there are rocks should be a National Monument? Shouldn't there be a real threat before protection is invoked?

Not at all. There's already plenty of existing mining claims on federal land, and a good many rock quarries already exist on private land that is unlikely to be tagged as a national mounument/

Devils Tower was a perfect example. Roosevelt wanted to give it a special status before maybe, just maybe someone decided it would be a good idea to stake a claim to strip mine the rock, which clearly has a lot of historic significance. However, there are some places so special that I would agree they shouldn't be subject to extractive uses. There certainly need to be judgement calls made. As a society we still use minerals. I don't apologize for being a user of such materials, but even I realize there are some things that are significant enough that they should be preserved. There should be reasonable limits placed on what we can do to the public's land. They certainly need to be selective to some degree, as we don't have unlimited funding and still have needs that are met with mining on federal lands.

And what exactly is a "real threat"? Right now anyone can file a mining claim if there isn't already one in place on many federal lands. If there's something that has a certain significance, being proactive may be the only way to keep that area from being mined.

Personally I feel that's what's known as "Meteor Crater" in Arizona would have made a perfect national monument. However, it was surveyed and claimed before the Antiquities Act and before Arizona became a state, and is still privately owned to this day. At the time it was claimed, the owner felt that there might a billion dollars (1900s) worth of iron ore buried beneath the surface. At the very least, the fact that there wasn't that much iron ore and that what did hit vaporized on impact kept this site from being flattened. They didn't get their billions, but it is still operated as a tourist site.

And for Justin - it would not appear that any of those "decommisionings" were due to a disagreement with the Presidential designation or even done any time near when they were commissioned.

So what?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that there are uses for rock as building materials.

So every place there are rocks should be a National Monument? Shouldn't there be a real threat before protection is invoked?

And for Justin - it would not appear that any of those "decommisionings" were due to a disagreement with the Presidential designation or even done any time near when they were commissioned.


I apologize for suggesting that I wished you had lived over a hundred years ago. That wasn't polite, and I should instead just have ignored you.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that there are uses for rock as building materials. Basalt is commonly used for cobblestones. Before Yosemite Valley became part of a national park, there were proposals to strip El Capitan and turn it into building materials.

So what was the question again?

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