For 20 years, nearly 2 million acres of land have been locked up within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
For 20 years, ranchers have been kicked off the range.
For 20 years, the local economies have been negatively impacted.
Within the past 20 years, a number of local schools have had to declare emergencies because their student populations are vanishing. And why are they losing so many children? Because there are not enough jobs to raise a family and so the families have been forced to leave.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Protecting public lands doesn’t have to be a win-lose proposition. We can protect these precious antiquities and landscapes without making it impossible for the local communities to thrive. We can do better. And with the president’s help, we now will.
Some people I talk to seem to have the attitude that I am a Republican, therefore I don’t care about protecting the incredible beauty of this state. I think that’s a silly place to start a conversation. There is a reason I live in Utah. I love it here! I love to ski. I love to hike and rock climb. I love to sit on my porch and look up at the mountains. I love these lands and I want to preserve them. But there is a right way or a wrong way to do that, and abusing the Antiquities Act is wrong.
As we consider the future of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, it’s worth remembering how it was created. In 1996, with the stroke of a pen, President Clinton destroyed hundreds of rural jobs and the economic stability of local communities by locking up clean coal, endangering future grazing rights and cutting off multiple use and access. It’s also worth noting that President Clinton didn’t have the courage to announce the creation of the new monument in Utah — he did it from across the border in Arizona. (While it turned out that he didn’t know much about the people in rural Utah, he did know enough to understand that they did not want such an enormous monument in their backyard.) Ever since then, because they felt like they had been deceived and/or ignored, the Staircase has continued to be incredibly disliked by the local population. With no input from either Congress or those who are most impacted by its designation, is it any wonder the local communities feel this way?
And the enormous expanse of the Grand Staircase is not the only example of D.C. overreach. Through the years, the original intent of the Antiquities Act has morphed well beyond the original intent of the act, which was to preserve the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Which is why Bears Ears, and its 1.3 million acres, also had to be reduced.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument resides in my district. I have made many visits to the monument and to its surrounding communities. I have seen firsthand the economic damage that that the monument has caused. I have heard the lack of trust so many local residents feel toward their federal government. “They don’t listen! They don’t try to understand. All I want to do is stay here and raise my family but I don’t know if I can do that any longer?”
My rural constituents are in desperate need of a change.
Yesterday, they got it.
President Trump had the courage to do what no other president would do. He had the courage to right this wrong. President Trump listened to the local voices. And if you doubt that, please consider that every county and state elected official who represents the area encompassed by the Grand Staircase Monument supports the president’s decision.
On behalf of the county commissioners, the state legislators who represent the area and the entire federal delegation, we say thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for listening. Thank you for not forgetting about the rural Utahns who have felt neglected for too long.
Editor's note: Rep. Stewart recently announced that he plans to propose legislation to create a national park in a piece of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Chris Stewart represents Utah's 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.