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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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Justin - Could you be more specific? There were several links but I didn't see one that listed any prehistoric structures.

And no Matt - I am not trying to argue semantics. The Antiquities Act was meant to protect artificats and historical structures. Unfortunately, like most everything else, the progressive have perverted its intent to cover everything they wish - much the way the Constitution has been perverted to say whatever the current administration wants. (and by "current" I mean the administration in place at the time not solely our current "current administration". One has to wonder why we write laws at all as the executive branch seems to do whatever they want to anyway.

Anyone who has actually hiked virtually any of the lands included in this proposal will know by personal experience that the number of prehistoric structures is huge. Last summer, I hiked a fairly short distance in a canyon just south of the Horseshoe Canyon section of Canyonlands. It was Barrier Creek and one of its short side canyons. In a distance of approximately four miles, I encountered five small ruins and about twelve petroglyph panels. I'm not an archaeologist with a practiced eye, but I'll wager that if I had more experience in spotting sites, I'd have found many more. I can't answer the question of "how many" asked above, but based on personal experience, I'd say it has to be in the thousands.
However, the Antiquities Act includes more than just prehistoric structures.

Likewise, unless you've lived in Utah and personally experienced some of the practices produced by obedience to Utah's environmental motto (Multiply, multiply and pillage the Earth), you can have little concept of the way things are. It would be very difficult for anyone with even a little knowledge to miss seeing the effects of overgrazing of private lands (and public in some cases) that mark far too much of Utah's beef and sheep industries. Pollution of water sources and riparian areas are also causes for great concern.

Frankly, I'm not particulary worried about mineral extraction. There are usually enough regulations in place to mitigate much of the disruption those cause. But they are distruptive and the question here is one of how much disruption -- and destruction -- will we tolerate in the Greater Canyonlands area?

This is the second driest state in the country. Yet southwestern Utah around St. George, is one of the fastest growing population regions in the nation. Water accounts are rapidly being overdrawn down there. The response from our leaders is not any attempt to conserve or plan more wisely with carrying capacity in mind, but to construct a hundred fifty mile water pipeline from Lake Powell to supply that growth. (And don't forget, the Colorado River's supply is already seriously overcommitted.) This idea of building a pipeline at enormous expense to taxpayers is directly in keeping with another Utah motto: Socialize the expenses, privatize the profits.

Along that same line, there are supposedly serious proposals floating around that will attempt to tap water from either the Missouri and/or Mississippi Rivers to be piped to augment the supply from Lake Powell. Ironically at the same time, Utah and Nevada are locked in a battle over water rights in the far southwest part of Utah. Las Vegas wants to drill wells and pump water via a pipeline to supply growth in the City of Sin. Ranchers in both Utah and Nevada are terrified because it looks as if Las Vegas Money will prevail and that their wells will dry up.

Utah's legislature is not friendly toward public land use. Some 80+% of our legislators are directly involved in some aspect of real estate, construction, and land development. One recent result of this was a law that blocks traditional access by fishermen and women (gotta be correct here) from streambanks located on private property. As in most other states, streambanks had traditionally been open to allow sports access to the public's waterways. But now, if the land is privately owned, anyone wishing to fish must first obtain written permission from the landowner.

ATV and Jeeping are two very popular activities in Utah. Both have produced some extremely serious damage to literally hundreds of thousands of acres of land. Attempts to restrict thoughtless use of those machines has been part of the push back against Federal control of Utah lands.

Utah voters are being subjected to a loud, but certainly questionable dose of propaganda from those who would "take back" Utah's Federal lands. This mostly false information attempts to convince Utahns -- whose schools rank last in per pupil funding -- that possession of the public lands will bring in so many new tax dollars that all our education funding problems will be gone. (It's the same sort of stuff used in some places to convince people to approve state lotteries -- one thing Utah has thankfully resisted so far.)

Several polls have shown an overwhelming number of Utahns support our National Park and forest areas regardless of their political whims. But at the same time, some of those same people apparently don't do much serious thinking because they say they favor "return of Federal lands to Utah." It appears to me that, as is the case in so many places, many Utah's citizens are easily persuaded by whatever information or mis-information happens to interrupt their thoughtful contemplation of TV, sports or movie entertainment.

This is a very complex -- and I think serious -- challenge that needs to be addressed in some way. What that way is, I don't know. But one thing I think I'm safe in saying is that if these lands are lost to development of any kind, they will be lost forever.

The bottom line question then is this: What is the best purpose and use of these lands that will benefit the greatest number of Americans?

ec, those are valid points. While I agree the Antiquities Act has probably been stretched beyond the initial congressional intent in some cases, Congress gave this power to the executive branch via legislation. They can take it away the same way if it bothers them too much.

As for using the Antiquities Act in this instance (not something I necessarily agree with, btw), it is actually right in line with what I believe was Congress' intent when they passed the law. There are thousands of prehistoric structures in the area, but like I said in a previous post, I'm not sure how many of those are already within the existing park units. Most of the ones I've visited are on BLM-managed land with few restrictions on their multiple use mandate (though there are a few WSAs down there).

While there may indeed be structures and ruins - it is not quite clear what they are, where they are (relative to the proposal) nor whether they are at risk. But looking at the statement regarding the goal of creating the NM it wouldn't seem that "antiquities" have anything to do with the intent.

"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."

Here is the entire Antiquities Act:

American Antiquities Act of 1906
16 USC 431-433

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.

Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe: Provided, That the examinations, excavations, and gatherings are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects, and that the gatherings shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums.

Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act.

Approved, June 8, 1906


Note one line that says: "and other objects of historic or scientific interest"

That pretty well covers it, doesn't it?

A new monument in this area doesn't provide much in the way of additional protection for antiquities or anything else. The laws that provide these protections already cover these lands. These lands are already Federal lands, under the administration of the BLM. The NM would likely be administered by the BLM. There would not be large increases in staff for the area (you have probably heard that we're broke). The original writeup states that no roads or trails would be closed. Development actions on Federal lands already require NEPA analysis of impacts. Mitigations under a NM might be the same as would currently occur.

I don't think designation of a new monument would impact the issues Lee talks about in any substantial way. These issues are not specific to the area or to Utah. They occur across this entire country and designating a national monument won't change them. Grazing will likely continue. Water rights are state issues. Rights assumed by the Feds will be junior to prior existing rights. Crazy diversion projects for movement of water from areas of surplus to areas of deficit have been proposed in many areas of the country.

Look at the GSENM as an example. Little has changed since designation. Use hasn't substantially increased, the area is still simply a viewshed for most Americans. The Powerplant site was locked up and maybe that's a good thing. Mineral development may have been impeded but maybe not. The area is so rough that development here is likely a difficult and expensive task. The BLM has constructed four (I think) visitor centers for the area so administrative costs have probably increased substantially. I think most visitation to the GSENM is limited to the visitor centers as tourists stop, look at displays and continue down the highway.

A full and complete debate in Congress should occur prior to any action to designate this area. If these protections are a priority for the nation it will occur. I personally don't think it's much of a priority for anyone other than locals in the area and elite recreational types who think something's gonna change. Executive action by the President will not make things better for anyone.

That pretty well covers it, doesn't it?

So what objects of historic or scientific interest are being protected - and from what? I don't see any reference to these "objects" in the stated goals quoted in this article.


Try this link to the page: It describes the prehistoric structures. It also lists some of the potential threats to them.

As for other "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest," there are plenty listed in the article if one remembers that "historic landmarks" and "other objects of historic interest" refer to natural elements as well as artifacts.

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