Escalante, Utah (March 30, 2021) — Grand Staircase Escalante Partners urges the Biden Administration to quickly restore the promise and protections for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
In President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, the Department of Interior is tasked “to determine whether restoration of the monument boundaries and conditions that existed as of January 20, 2017, would be appropriate.” The answer is a clear and resounding yes. This act of restoration is our nation’s best hope for safeguarding the invaluable life and history at home in this landscape.
The original boundary follows a path carefully determined by scientists before the Monument’s designation. These experts defined the expanse of the Monument by its extraordinarily diverse ecosystems, determined, in turn, by remarkable geologic, topographic, and hydrologic diversity. Twenty-five years later, research continues to prove the significance of this ecologically distinct Colorado Plateau environment. Eighty-five percent of Utah’s biodiversity exists within the Monument, including 2,600 species of flora and over 660 species of bees.
Continuing fieldwork has revealed 3,500 paleontological sites and more than 20 new dinosaur species, with much of the Monument still unexplored. Archaeologists have documented tens of thousands of sites and artifacts within just 10 percent of the Monument and believe that as many as 20,000 additional cultural sites lie within the sections of the original Monument that lost protection in 2017. Other crucial landscapes in need of a return to full safeguarding include the Blues Overlook, delicate toadstools across the southern rim of the Monument, the rugged Circle Cliffs, Colt Mesa, Peekaboo Slot Canyon, and Smokey Mountain Road. It is time to restore the Monument’s protections for these vulnerable sites.
If we act on our responsibility to protect these places, the local economy benefits. Independent research by Headwaters Economics shows the economic conditions in Western non-metropolitan counties with federal land with special designations significantly outpace similar areas without these protections. The Grand Staircase-Escalante region demonstrates this growth: per capita income rose 17 percent from 2001 to 2015, along with a 42 percent increase in service jobs (doctors, engineers, and teachers). The Monument continues to create greater economic opportunity for the region. Long-term protection of the Monument’s landscapes and the health of its ecosystems are vital for the future of adjacent rural communities.
The fully protected Monument amplifies ecological resilience for the whole region as extinction threatens the flora and fauna of the southern Colorado Plateau. Grand Staircase-Escalante can become a “species ark” by interlocking with other designated federal lands, from Bryce Canyon National Park to Bears Ears. A restored Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will mitigate global warming, provide a carbon sink, protect watersheds, springs and seeps, and prevent wholesale extinctions.
The fully-restored GSENM will stand as a symbol of our solemn vow to posterity; that as a nation, we accept the responsibility of preserving for future generations our common inheritance—an unbroken land still rich with life and promise. Now is the time to renew that promise. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right.”