The BLM believes that natural wonders and indigenous holy places can be managed for private profit without damage. Anyone who doesn’t believe that has until Sept. 23 to say so.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante area in Utah has had national monument status for 23 years. Increasing tourism has provided economic opportunities for the residents of small communities at its edge.
Natural resources like the Escalante River were rescued from overgrazing. Wildlife habitats and migration routes were connected. President Donald Trump removed those protections from 900,000 acres.
On Aug. 23, the BLM proposed opening 700,000 of those acres to mineral exploration leases and extractive development, including more than 60,000 acres for coal mining. It published a proposed resource management plan (and final environmental impact statement).
In addition, more intense recreation uses, including motorized vehicles, will be allowed in some areas. Groups of up to 50 individuals will be able to use monument facilities. Grazing will be reintroduced in some sensitive areas, including the Escalante River, which is still within the protected areas.
The RMP and EIS harken back to the time when public lands were always managed for use. Use was assumed to be logging, hunting, mining and grazing. The idea that use could be compatible with conservation, that no trace should be left behind, was for tree-huggers, not the government.
Those times are gone, except for President Trump, his energy industry contributors and the backward-facing politicians who supported shrinking this monument, and nearly eliminating the Bears Ears National Monument.
When Taliban zealots blew up the fourth-century Bamyan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, the world labeled them ignorant cretins. The same could be said of those who would destroy the natural landscapes of southern Utah.
Whether a precious thing is blown up by religious zealots or torn up by energy extraction, the loss is just as permanent and just as wrong.
Speak out. Submit comments electronically by clicking on this link—eplanning.blm.gov—and find the necessary forms under the heading: Proposed RMPs and Final EIS.
With the Twitter chaos that covers federal changes, such protests may not stop the BLM now. Remember these shrunken and battered national monuments when the next election season rolls around.