The 1.7 million acres of land designated as the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (“the Monument,” “GSENM”) are becoming legal and political battlegrounds. Between various presidential proclamations establishing, enlarging, then shrinking then enlarging again the boundaries and responsibilities of the Monument, it has become a muddy and heated issue. Through coordination with county and federal offices and officers, the following report will hopefully contain facts sufficient to enlighten the lay reader on the issue.
The Monument came to be through Presidential Proclamation 6920 on September 18, 1996, under the legal authority granted by the Antiquities Act. The land was designated as “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of objects of historic and scientific interest,” per that act. Proclamation 6920 stated that 1.7 million acres was the smallest area compatible with protection of those objects of interest.
The Monument has changed sizes multiple times since then, but the most pertinent change occurred in December of 2017, when Presidential Proclamation 9682 cut “nearly half of the lands reserved in Proclamation 6920” (Proclamation 10286, October 8, 2021). This was an unprecedented change, as President Donald Trump’s administration stated that the same authority granted to the president via the Antiquities Act to designate monument lands, also granted the authority to remove such designations. That is the most pertinent change to have already occurred; however, there is an exceptionally pertinent change that is set to occur in the coming months, which is where the heated debate over the issue currently stems.
Presidential Proclamation 10286, as released in October 2021, is poised to restore the entirety of the 1.7 million acres of land to the GSENM. The interpretation and execution of Proc. 10286 will determine exactly how the lands of the GSENM are - or, more pertinently are not - used. The document is not an unmanageable read - the vast majority of the text is specifying where and why the land is so valuable, most of which a local reader will know. The pertinent legal parts of the proclamation are summarized and accessible in its latter portion, and any interested reader is strongly encouraged to read the document itself. This article will have a link to that document below.
Proc. 10286 calls for the Secretary of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to prepare a management plan, as advised by a committee of “a fair and balanced representation of interested stakeholders, including State and local governments, Tribal Nations, recreational users, conservation organizations, educators, local business owners, private landowners, and the scientific community.” That management plan will have the specifics of how the Monument will be … well, managed. The Proclamation begins the process of the Monument’s expansion back to its original size, but the new Management Plan provides the updated and modern nuts and bolts of how the Monument will operate going forward - and is also the reason this isn’t simply a return to the status quo pre-2017. Therefore, the Advisory Committee advising the formation of said plan has major influence on the Monument’s operations. The workings of this committee has been a major source of questions in Kane County’s Commission election, and will be elaborated on further below.
According to correspondence between the SUN and the BLM’s public resource officers, “The BLM Director has directed the BLM Utah State Director to have a record of decision signed by March 2024,” and the Monument is being governed by an interim management plan till then.
With that foundation set, some facts as confirmed by county officials and the BLM statement to the SUN editor:
According to the BLM’s Interim Management Guidance Plan, and per the BLM’s statement to the SUN: “There is no factual basis for the BLM limiting all uses except scientific study. The BLM will continue to manage the lands within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for multiple uses consistent with the protection of the objects and values within the monument and in conformance with the approved Resource Management Plan … Within Grand Staircase, typical multiple-use management is superseded by the direction in Proclamation 10286 to protect monument objects. Multiple uses are allowed only to the extent [these] are consistent with the protection of the objects and values within the monument,” and “the BLM will continue to manage the lands within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for multiple uses consistent with the protection of the objects and values within the monument and in conformance with the approved Resource Management Plan.” Multiple uses of the Monument will continue as long as those uses protect the objects of value as identified in the management plan, including the landscape of the Monument itself, as specified in the following.
Per the Proclamation 10286, “I [Joseph R. Biden Jr.] find that the unique nature of the Grand Staircase-Escalante landscape, and the collection of objects and resources therein, make the entire landscape within the boundaries reserved by this proclamation an object of historic and scientific interest in need of protection under 54 U.S.C. 320301;” The entirety of the 1.7 million acres are designated as a protected object, and the protective standards set forth in the management plan will apply to the entirety of the monument - not just specific isolated sites.
Per the statement from the BLM to the SUN: “Livestock grazing will be managed as authorized under existing permits or leases and subject to appropriate terms and conditions in accordance with existing laws and regulations, consistent with the care and management of the objects identified and in Proclamations 10286 and 6920. Livestock grazing permits and leases can be voluntarily relinquished by existing permit holders. Once relinquished, the lands covered by such permits or leases will be retired from livestock grazing pursuant to the processes of applicable law and forage will not be reallocated for livestock grazing purposes unless the Secretary of the Interior specifically finds that such reallocation will advance the purposes of both Proclamation 10286 and 6920. To date, BLM has not received any voluntary relinquishments.” Grazing will continue, unless the grazing permit holders voluntarily relinquish their permits, at which point grazing will be indefinitely suspended until the Secretary of the Interior finds that grazing will further the protective purposes of the Proclamation and Management Plan.
Per the statement from the BLM to the SUN: “No new mining claims may be located on lands within the [Monument] and no new mineral lease may be issued … mining claims within the monument, BLM must prepare a mineral examination report to determine whether the mining claim was valid before the withdrawal and whether the mining claim remains valid. If the BLM determines a mining claim or mineral lease are valid existing rights, the claimant is allowed to proceed in accordance with applicable law and in a manner that protects and mitigates impacts to the monument objects and values. “No new mining, and continuing mining must be reviewed by the BLM and proceed within the standards of the Management Plan and Proclamation.
Per the statement from the BLM to the SUN: “The BLM recognizes that recreation on public lands plays a key role in the lives of many Americans to strengthen our physical, social, and mental health, boost local economies, and provide communities with safe, equitable access to the outdoors. The BLM remains committed to improving recreational access and invites visitors to continue recreating responsibly on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.” The BLM supports responsible recreation on the monument.
Per the statement from the BLM to the SUN: “The deciding official for the new Resource Management Plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is BLM Utah State Director Greg Sheehan. Local BLM officials and staff play a key role in the development of the Resource Management Plan and the associated Environmental Impact Statement … The proclamation further directs that the planning process provide for maximum public involvement in the development of that plan, including consultation with Federally recognized Tribal Nations and State and local governments.” The proclamation directs local BLM officials to play a role in the management of the monument, and Utah’s BLM director is the deciding official for the new Monument Plan.
Per the statement from the BLM to the SUN: “A Kane County Official is guaranteed a seat on the Monument Advisory Committee, per the Advisory Committee Charter.” According to County Land Use and GIS officials, this appointment follows a vetting process lasting a few months or longer.
These are the facts as they were presented. The questions which produce the debate around these facts are typically “How does the management plan define ‘responsible’ use?” and “What does and does not fall under ‘furthering the protection of monument objects?’” The specifics of the Management Plan will answer these questions, and therefore there are no firm answers for them yet.
According to the BLM, responsible recreation will be maintained, grazing will be maintained until it is willingly conceded then suspended indefinitely, and mining will continue provided it meets the Management Plan standards, though no new mining or extraction will begin.
The planning process for the management plan provides for maximum public involvement. If any member of the public wishes to get involved, they are encouraged to contact their local and state government leadership - for most SUN readers that will be Kane County leadership. The BLM office in Kanab is also available for contact. Documents cited within this report can be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proclamation 10286, Executive Office of the President, 2001: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/ 2021/10/15/2021-22673/grand-staircase-escalante-national-monument.