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Frequently Asked Questions: The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

What is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument?

September 18, 1996 marked a stunning and exciting reversal in the pursuit of protection for America’s redrock wilderness. President Clinton signed into existence the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This monument, encompassing 1.7 million acres, includes the Kaiparowits Plateau as well as scenic slot canyons in the Escalante area. Although monument status does not in itself preclude coal extraction, in practice it would be extremely difficult to place a mine and its ancillary power lines and roads within the monument. Such structures are unquestionably incompatible with wilderness values safeguarded by the monument.

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Does the monument include lands in America’s Redrock wilderness Act?

The monument includes 1.6 million acres that are part of the Citizens’ Wilderness Proposal. The monument does not supplant the need to designate those lands as part of the Wilderness Preservation System, and to protect these lands from commercial tourist facilities such as concessionaires and paved roads. There will no doubt be battles in Congress to prevent Utah politicians from appropriating funds to pave the Hole-in-the-Rock road and others within the monument. The goal of the citizens’ Wilderness Proposal, 9.1 million acres of protected wilderness, is not diminished by enactment of the nation monument. Wilderness designation can overlay national monuments and parks just as it can overlay BLM and nation forest lands.

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Isn’t this monument the mother of all land grabs?

Senator Orrin Hatch claimed that it is. In reality, the lands at issue are federal public lands and are to be managed consistent with national public interest, rather than solely in the interest of local county commissioners and foreign mining companies. Perhaps the term "land grab" applies more appropriately to the attempt of Utah politicians in 1995 and 1996 to force their anti-wilderness bills, H.R. 1745 and S. 884, upon the American public. Their intransigence only proved to the President that rational negotiation on land protection issues in southern Utah is not possible.

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Does the monument allow hunting and grazing?

These activities are currently ongoing and will still be allowed when the lands are designated as wilderness. There is precedent for these activities in national monuments. Locals can claim no adverse economic impact from the creation of the monument since no existing commercial uses are being displaced.

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What about lost revenues for Utah’s school children?

If the Andalex mine were to be constructed, it would result in the purchase of lease of state school trust lands – acreage owned by the state for the purpose of generating revenue for education. School trust lands statewide generate just one percent of the annual Utah education budget. Even if the Andalex mine were constructed (after taxpayers dole out $100 million for road subsidies), annual revenue would only increase about $2 per pupil.

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What about "pre-existing rights" — are they valid in the monument?

Valid existing rights are protected by the monument proclamation. Conoco, owned by chemical giant Dupont, claims it has valid existing rights to drill exploratory holes for oil within the monument, yet BLM records show that Conoco acquired its leases after the monument was established. Conoco has already begun drilling on a Utah State section the BLM granted Conoco permission to drill on a federal site in the monument. (The company has applied for permits to drill on five other federal sections.) Conoco does not have an absolute right to drill on these public lands. The BLM can deny permits for oil development in the monument based on the very serious environmental and ecological impacts of drilling in a national treasure managed in trust for all Americans. You can find out more about Conoco in the Fall 1997 SUWA newsletter, on file at the SUWA web site, www.suwa.org.

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