Monument push renews debate
Showdown looming for recreation, gas industries
A plea to President Barack Obama to establish a 1.4 million-acre national monument around Canyonlands National Park is the latest step in a long battle to set aside lands in eastern Utah.
The proposal offered by the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association also heats up a simmering dispute about the president’s powers to set aside land.
In the letter signed by several Colorado businesses, as well as businesses in Utah and elsewhere, the association said it was seeking Obama’s help “because unfortunately, Greater Canyonlands is endangered. Federal land use plans inappropriately open scenic and undeveloped land to drilling and mining and fail to address exploding off-road vehicle use that is damaging riparian areas, cultural sites, soils and solitude.”
Obama earlier this year stepped in at the request of members of the Colorado congressional delegation to designate Chimney Rock National Monument in the southern part of the state.
In this case, critics of the move say they fear the president will act without support from local officials, but at the behest of the recreational industry.
The Outdoor Industry Association letter sprang from frustration with efforts by environmental organizations such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Sierra Club to win congressional support for a proposed 9 million-acre Red Rocks Wilderness Area, said Veronica Egan, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
“The problem with any legislative solution is that the Congress isn’t really functioning right now,” said Ashley Korenblat, president of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab. The idea for the monument has been “out there for quite a while,” Tom Kleinschnitz of Adventure Bound River Expeditions in Grand Junction said.
The idea is one of surrounding the “core,” or Canyonlands National Park, with lands set off from industrialization, Kleinschnitz said, noting that the entire area is “still one of the most unique backcountry experiences in the Lower 48.”
The national monument proposal differs from previous efforts to establish bans on development on sensitive or iconic landscapes in that it’s geared to protect the well-established tourism economy of Moab and its surrounding slickrock mountain-biking trails, Colorado River-running businesses and other famed tourist attractions.
“This is not about limiting access, but it’s focused on protecting the recreation economy,” Korenblat said.
That’s part of the problem that local officials have with the idea, San Juan County Commission Chairman Bruce Adams said.
“When they’re focused on recreation, we’re looking at people who are focused on making a livelihood,” Adams said, “We’re amazed that recreation takes precedence over people’s livelihoods.”
San Juan County has significant natural gas and other mineral resources that shouldn’t be locked up, Adams said.
In addition to San Juan County, the proposed national monument would take in parts of Grand, Garfield, Kane and a sliver of Emery County, the latter of which “is not a deal-breaker,” Korenblat said.
As proposed, the Uintah Basin and its oil and gas, oil shale and tar sands would lie outside the monument boundaries and be unaffected by a designation.
“We would love to promote a recreation economy when the oil and gas runs out” there, Korenblat said.
The recreation economy is now paying more in taxes than extractive industries, she said.
“We’re concerned about taking away the goose that lays the golden eggs for various speculative technologies where most of the profits go out of the state anyway,” Korenblat said.
Across the border in Colorado, designation of a monument in Utah could be worrisome, said David Ludlum, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, especially “if the administration were to make a designation despite the opposition of the congressman and county commissioners.”
The proposal also makes no mention of how the Navajo population in San Juan County would be affected by establishment of a monument, Adams said.
“We think it’s highly insensitive of the outdoor industry to make this kind of proposal without taking into account that Native American part of the population of San Juan County that uses the land for wood for heating and herb gathering for ceremonial purposes,” Adams said. “You put in a national monument and it locks up all that ground.”
Both sides they’re working with state and federal officials to take the next steps.