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Health, Science & Environment
KUER’s Southeast Utah Bureau is based in San Juan County. The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area. Both initiatives focus on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

Chris Stewart Reintroduces Grand Staircase-Escalante Bill, But Supporters Say It Likely Won’t Go Anywhere

A photo of a sign showing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Lexi Peery
/
KUER
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was originally designated in 1996 at 2 million acres. Efforts by the Trump Administration and Utah representatives would change it into two monuments and one national park.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-UT, recently reintroduced legislation that would create Utah’s sixth national park and solidify the president’s boundaries for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The bill was first filed by Stewart in 2017 after President Donald Trump cut the monument’s 2 million acres in half. It ultimately didn’t make it out of committee hearings.

During a congressional debate Monday night, Stewart said the bill is meant to return the management of the area to Utahns.

“The presumption of many, is that the people in Utah are just too stupid or too ill-willed to manage their lands,” he said. “[That] you need to turn it over to some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., who, by the way, may never come to Utah... We are perfectly capable of protecting these lands. We want to protect these lands.”

The bill proposes the park be named the Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve and would allow hunting, fishing, trapping and grazing according to a press release about the bill. A council made up of local leaders would make and oversee a management plan. Two national monuments that follow President Trump’s designation are also included.

Sarah Bauman is the executive director of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, which is one of several groups currently suing the Trump Administration for downsizing the monument.

She said she opposes the bill because it doesn’t offer the same protections the original monument status did and it gives power to local leaders to manage the park.

“We believe that this bill is going in the wrong direction and that it is actually solidifying a position that will not serve the monument or the American people,” Bauman said. “Although it appears to provide greater conservation — and that's actually in the title — the bill itself does not offer greater protections or means for conservation.”

When the monument was first designated in 1996, Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock said local residents weren’t able to use the land like they had before. From the beginning, the monument was a controversial topic in Utah.

He said Stewart’s bill likely won’t make it out of the House, but reintroducing it sends a message about people’s desire to lock in the monument’s current boundaries so it doesn’t change under presidential actions again.

“I don't want to see any new national park,” Pollock said. “However, if this is the only way to get those boundaries locked in and protect the traditional uses like grazing, then Chris Stewart's looking at it and saying maybe this is the only way we're gonna get this done.”

Dean Baker lives in Kanab, which is at the southern end of Grand Staircase Escalante. He moved to the area in the past few years and the monument was a draw for him.

Baker said that having a “special” status for this proposed park could set a precedent for other parks to be managed by local leaders, rather than the national government.

“The whole point of the national park is it’s for the country. It's for the future,” Baker said “It's not explicitly for the people in that area. If you leave it up to the people in the area, their concerns aren't the same. People in the area are going to be thinking about their interest, first and foremost, not the long-term future of the country.”

This latest bill was referred to the House Committee of Natural Resources at the end of September and this congressional session ends at the beginning of 2021.

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