20th an­niver­sary of Utah mon­u­ment stirs strong emo­tions

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Michelle L. Price and Brady Mc­combs

SALT LAKE CITY >> As Utah waits to see if Pres­i­dent Barack Obama will des­ig­nate a new na­tional mon­u­ment in the state, this week­end’s 20th an­niver­sary of an­other na­tional mon­u­ment rekin­dled mem­o­ries of an event that ig­nited sim­mer­ing western frus­tra­tions about fed­eral own­er­ship of pub­lic land.

Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton cre­ated the Grand Stair­case Es­calante-Na­tional Mon­u­ment on Sept. 18, 1996, by sign­ing a dec­la­ra­tion at the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Ari­zona. It was lauded by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, with ac­tor and Utah res­i­dent Robert Red­ford ap­pear­ing at the cer­e­mony with Clin­ton.

But in heav­ily Repub­li­can Utah, the move was viewed as a sneaky, stab-in­the back ex­am­ple of fed­eral over­reach.

About 70 miles (112.65 kilo­me­ters) north of Clin­ton’s cer­e­mony in the Utah town of Kanab, just out­side the new mon­u­ment, flags flew at half-staff, residents wore black rib­bons of mourn­ing and high school stu­dents re­leased 50 black bal­loons as a sign of protest. More black bal­loons were hung around town, along with signs that said “Shame on you Clin­ton.”

The mon­u­ment and the way it was cre­ated re­main a sore spot for many Utah Repub­li­cans and lo­cal residents, who say it closed off too many ar­eas to de­vel­op­ment — in­clud­ing one of the coun­try’s largest known coal re­serves — that could have helped pay for lo­cal schools.

They also ar­gued it was too large — en­velop­ing about 1.9 mil­lion acres — the largest na­tional mon­u­ment in the con­tigu­ous United States and an area about the size of Delaware.

Many of those same peo­ple who now op­pose the pro­posed Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment in south­east­ern Utah cite Grand Stair­case as proof of why mon­u­ments are bad news for ru­ral residents.

In 2015, Garfield County de­clared a state of emer­gency for fall­ing school en­roll­ment, and county com­mis­sion­ers laid some of the blame on Grand Stair­case.

“That is the worst thing that has ever hap­pened to this county,” Garfield County Com­mis­sioner Le­land Pol­lock said Fri­day. Pol­lock said the mon­u­ment put the ki­bosh on a planned coal mine that would have brought 1,100 jobs to the area.

Tourism to the mon­u­ment has only cre­ated sea­sonal, low-pay­ing jobs and fam­i­lies have moved away, Pol­lock said. “You can’t do any­thing on a mon­u­ment,” he said.

State tourism of­fi­cials and con­ser­va­tion groups tout the mon­u­ment’s nat­u­ral won­ders, and a record num­ber of 900,000 peo­ple vis­ited its scenic cliffs, canyons, wa­ter­falls and arches last year, ac­cord­ing to the mon­u­ment’s fed­eral man­agers.

The mon­u­ment de­serves to be hailed as a high-wa­ter mark in con­ser­va­tion, said Steve Bloch of the South­ern Utah Wilder­ness Al­liance. Past pres­i­dents who cre­ated mon­u­ments that later be­came Zion and Arches Na­tional Parks were com­mended for their ac­tions, Bloch said.

“These are fed­eral lands, and this was a step made on be­half of all Amer­i­cans,” Bloch said.

A poll con­ducted this summer by Be­nen­son Strat­egy Group, a Demo­cratic firm, and Pub­lic Opin­ion Strate­gies, a Repub­li­can firm, found Utah vot­ers be­lieve the mon­u­ment has been good for the state by a twoto-one mar­gin. More than half view it pos­i­tively com­pared with less one quar­ter who think it has been bad.

The poll was com­mis­sioned by The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports the des­ig­na­tion of the Grand Stair­case mon­u­ment and the Bears Ears pro­posal.

The pro­posed mon­u­ment at Bears Ears would be about the same size as Grand Stair­case, span­ning wide ex­panses dot­ted with an­cient ru­ins, pet­ro­glyphs and stun­ning vis­tas.

A coali­tion of tribes and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups say the mon­u­ment is needed to pro­tect from loot­ing and dam­age from off-road ve­hi­cles.

Obama has not said if he will des­ig­nate a mon­u­ment around Bears Ears, a pair of twin buttes that sits on land con­sid­ered sa­cred. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell toured the area this summer and held a pub­lic meet­ing, an in­di­ca­tion that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­plor­ing the idea.

DOU­GLAS C. PIZAC — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

This file photo, shows the var­ied ter­rain of Grand Stair­case-Es­calante Na­tional Mon­u­ment near Boul­der, Utah.

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