A few days ago, President Donald Trump made his displeasure with our national monument system and the Antiquities Act official by calling for a review of national monument designations and issuing an executive order that threatens to undermine the Antiquities Act and the places it has protected.
The Antiquities Act has been used since 1906, when it was signed into law by Former President Theodore Roosevelt, by both Republican and Democrat presidents to protect public lands as national monuments. As you know, Secretary Ryan Zinke, it’s thanks to Roosevelt’s vision and the Antiquities Act that sites of national importance — from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — are permanently protected.
With his order, Trump has effectively brought the future of our “neighbor," the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, into question.
In this time when America’s national monuments are put on trial, we invite you and all Utah leaders to meet with local businesses and the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce. Please do not ignore the local businesses who would urge you, Mr. Secretary, to leave Grand Staircase and Bears Ears as they are.
As business people who make a living in the Escalante-Boulder region of Utah, we can tell you from firsthand experience that since the protection of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, our local tourism industry in Escalante has grown and is thriving. Three new lodging facilities have just opened, with two more currently under construction, a clear indication of the increasing visitation to Escalante. More than that, people want to live here, and new home construction is at an all-time high. Businesses continue to open to respond to the demand from new residents. While there are undoubtedly many factors that play a part in a region’s growth, the Escalante & Boulder Chamber attributes the majority of our success to the attraction of the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Our story in Escalante is just one of many examples of communities across America benefiting economically from national monuments and the protection of public lands. The Outdoor Industry Association just released new data that the outdoor recreation economy generates $887 billion in direct consumer spending annually and supports more than 7.6 million American jobs. Additional research shows that regions surrounding national monuments have seen continued growth or improvement in employment and personal income, and rural counties in the West with more public lands had healthier economies, on average, than their peers with less protected lands.
We are informed that you will come to Utah in early May. We extend a hearty invitation to you to visit our community, to meet with the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce and local businesses and discuss the economic success of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in our communities.
After all, a review of our national monuments is effective only if it is fair, balanced and truly examines the success of our national monuments. Americans would settle for nothing less.
Suzanne Catlett is board president of the Escalante & Boulder Chamber of Commerce.