Reasons that the Grand Staircase should be Protected

To the Garfield County Commissioners,

Regarding your upcoming Resolution to downsize the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Grand Staircase), I don’t think that you have fully considered its unintended consequences. HCR 12 and your subsequent Resolution have numerous factual errors that should be corrected before moving forward. The Truth is that the Grand Staircase is not the cause of all our problems:

• Operating under a pre-1996 grazing plan, ranching has not substantially changed since to the creation of the Grand Staircase. The Monument Proclamation did not propose any new rules, but stated that existing grazing rules and regulations would apply. In the future as in the past, the most likely cause of reduction in grazing will be reduce availability of forage due to drought.

• Coal mines throughout the West have been shut down because of the low prices of more efficient natural gas. Developing new coal mines on the remote Kaiparowits Plateau would be inhibited by the huge transportation costs and lack of infrastructure. Coal is so 20th century because it is burned in a 19th century manner. In the future with changes in technology, the vast coal deposits of the Kaiparowits might have more value. We should leave it to future generations to determine how and whether to mine this coal; today it will simply not be competitive.

• Oil exploration in the area before the GSENM establishment did not lead to significant discoveries. The little old oil field in Pet Hollow is still producing, but provides minimal taxable income or jobs. I understand that plans for a DOE demonstration project to mine tar sands in the Circle Cliffs region were scrapped by former Secretary of Interior James Watt because it was not economically viable. With present low prices for petroleum, lack of infrastructure, and limited supply of essential water resources, mining these tar sands will not be economically viable.

• The uranium prospects in the Circle Cliffs and elsewhere in the Monument are too small to be economic resources. Even the large uranium reserves outside of the Monument near Ticaboo are not profitable enough to open a multi-million dollar mine and mill there.

• The Grand Staircase is dominated by pinyon-juniper woodlands and has never been and never will be a source of marketable trees, so the Proclamation had no effect on Escalante’s sawmill. The lumber industry in the Pacific Northwest and Canada and southeast US were able to outcompete areas having slow-growing forests such as ours, so our relatively small sawmill went out of business.

• The contention that Escalante is in a “State of Emergency” because of reduced enrollments at Escalante High School and that this resulted from the establishment of the Grand Staircase is simply WRONG! Reduced enrollments were actually caused by changing demographics (people are older and have fewer children) and the loss of the sawmill (discussed above), but were not related to the Grand Staircase. Nationwide, rural young people seem to want to move to the city. Many parents who presently choose to not send their kids to Escalante High School might change their minds if the curriculum improved. Luckily, our elementary schools have an excellent record, so our children have the intelligence and innate abilities necessary to make Escalante High succeed. With an improved reputation (and no state or emergency), more young families might decide to live in Escalante. With some positive leadership from Garfield County officials, Escalante High could become more viable school, perhaps with outdoor experiential classes that could utilize the nearby Escalante Canyon located in the adjacent Grand Staircase.

• Do we really want to lose the federal employees who work for the GSENM and are important members of our communities? Government jobs account for about 25% of our workforce (1/3 of those are federal and the other 2/3 are state and local) . These folks contribute to our tax base, spend money in our stores, and their kids go to our schools. Federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes(PILT) provides millions of dollars to our county.

• Living in rural communities like those in Garfield County is inherently difficult. Nobody is living here because of the money. We stay here for a quality of life, away from the madding crowd and with neighbors we can trust. One of the things that is bringing new people to our towns is the recreational opportunities available in our public lands, particularly the Grand Staircase. Many valid studies have shown that having such public lands is one of the best economic drivers for rural western communities. This will only increase as folks of my age-group retire and decide to move here.

• Since the Grand Staircase was established in 1996, communities like Escalante have seen the beginnings of a thriving tourist economy. I recall that back in the 1980’s, many of Escalante’s businesses were closed down and declining. Over the past couple decades, old storefronts have reopened or are presently are being remodeled and new commercial buildings are springing up. B&Bs, hotels, restaurants, stores, guide businesses, a new clinic, and new hardware store all show that this community is thriving.

• With so many new people wanting build new homes in our communities that they are having to wait in line for qualified contractors. Construction work, especially for skilled tradesmen, provides high paying and sustainable jobs. With construction, property values go up adding the county tax base, providing new funding to improve our schools and such.

• Over the last couple decades, the communities of Garfield County have begun to adapt to having the Grand Staircase as a neighbor, and many entrepreneurs have developed successful tourism-related businesses. My guide service, Earth-Tours, would be devastated if the Grand Staircase were to be reduced in size; the bad press from these resolutions might already be having a negative effect. More than half of the workers in Garfield County are employed in tourism-related businesses; the best area of growth in our otherwise impoverished county. The Grand Staircase is essential to our businesses and indeed is our “Goose that lays the Golden Eggs”. Carving up the Grand Staircase (our golden goose) would kill much of our potential for future growth.

Utah politicians are all rushing to seize control of our federal public lands without really considering what the wisest use of these lands might be in the 21st century. Instead, they seem to be looking back over their shoulders and wanting to return things to the good old days of extractive industries. However, the world has changed since the last millennium, so that the lands appear to have much more value providing for recreation, especially with a growing world’s population. As the national parks seem to be reaching their carrying capacity, the GSENM will become increasingly attractive place to vacation. Realizing this reality, it would be best for our political leaders to help our little communities to best prepare for and benefit from increased tourism while maintaining our rural values.