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Former Grand Staircase-Escalante Lands Opened To Potential Drilling, Mining

Photo of Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Nate Hegyi / KUER
The Trump administration deduced the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah by 861,974 square acres in 2017.

Public lands that used to be a part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah will lose many of their environmental protections, according to a final federal government management plan released Friday.

“We will be losing some incredible places that we have had protected for decades,” said Cory MacNulty, associate director for the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association’s Southwest Region.

The Bureau of Land Management’s planning document said the agency will now open more than 1,000 square miles of previously-protected monument land to potential drilling and mining. That land will be known as the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area. 

The plan will also allow for more cattle grazing in the area, which the BLM acknowledged could result in an increase of methane emissions. Recreation opportunities are expanded as well, allowing for bigger group sizes and fewer restrictions on competitive events, which the document said could impact recreationalists looking for a primitive experience. 

The agency estimates the proposed changes will support 503 jobs, $8.6 million in labor income and $38.4 million in industry activity.

“The proposed plan will provide a foundation for economic opportunity, support job growth, and provide a framework for recreation and other commercial opportunities,” Kimberly Finch, a spokeswoman for the BLM, wrote in a press release. 

Grand Staircase-Escalante, which was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, was originally bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. But the Trump administration drastically reduced its boundaries in late 2017.

The agency’s original draft management plan was released last year and received significant backlash from conservation groups. This final plan contains a few changes, including closing some areas to ATVs. But the changes didn’t go far enough, according to MacNulty.

“It clearly ignores public opposition to the management proposals they put forward,” she said. “It also ignores the ongoing litigation over the reduced monument boundaries.”

Conservation groups and Indigenous tribes have sued to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to reduce the monument’s boundaries. The management plan has the support of the Republican members of Utah’s delegation, including Rep. Rob Bishop, ranking member of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.

“These BLM plans represent a continued deference to the input and expertise of states,” he said in a statement. “Responsible economic activity and conservation have never been mutually exclusive goals. Westerners know this, Utah certainly knows this, and now it is even more clear that the BLM knows this.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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