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All sides take a shot at Canyonlands monument proposal

Volume 30 Number 23, November 30, 2012

Canyonlands monument hits nerve. OIA recommendations fires up both critics and supporters.

All sides take a shot at Canyonlands monument proposal

      Where there's smoke there's fire. And a lot of smoke broke out last week when the human-powered recreation industry called on President Obama to designate a 1.4 million-acre Canyonlands National Monument in Utah.

      The recreationists, led by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), said the monument should consist of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands adjacent to Canyonlands National Park. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes a President to designate national monuments from federal lands without Congressional action.
      "We are writing to encourage you to protect Greater Canyonlands - the magnificent 1.4 million-acre region of publicly-owned wildlands surrounding Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah - by proclaiming it a national monument," said the association and five pages of associations and  companies such as Patagonia.

      In addition to seeking to protect lands valuable to the industry, the writers gave these reasons for designating a monument under the Antiquities Act: "We also turn to you for action 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 (ORV) use that is damaging riparian areas, cultural sites, soils and solitude."

      OIA's assertion of an "exploding" number of ORVs in the area immediately drew a response from ORV user advocates. Said Brian Hawthorne, public lands policy director for the BlueRibbon Coalition, "First off, although accurate recreation data is difficult to come by, monitoring reports from BLM's Richfield, Price and Moab offices indicates the increase in OHV use leveled off during the mid-2000s."

      He added, "But more importantly, BLM's new (2008) management plans closed approximately 50 percent of the existing roads and trails!"

      The human-powered outdoor industry, which holds an annual marketing conference in Salt Lake City, also took a shot at Utah politicians. "Now, the state of Utah is demanding that the federal government turn over 30 million acres of federal land for potential development and/or privatization and is asserting the right to expand and pave 40,000 miles of dirt routes and trails that crisscross Utah's federally-owned wildlands," they wrote Obama. "Both actions would result in the despoiling of Greater Canyonlands."

      A spokesperson for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) said the state would object to a reprise of the 1996 designation of a 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by President Clinton.

      Said Ally Isom, deputy chief of staff and spokesperson for Herbert, in a statement provided to us, "No one has formally approached the Governor or his office about a proposed monument in Utah. We certainly hope we don't have another Bill Clinton approach to creating a monument. Canyonlands (National Park) was established by statute and any expansion ought to be rightly created by statute involving all interested parties including Utah stakeholders."

      Four Republicans from the Utah Congressional delegation wrote Obama to challenge the designation of a Canyonlands National Monument. "We are opposed to efforts to create national monuments within the state of Utah by presidential decree," they said. "Federal land-use decisions must be cultivated in a collaborative process that balances various stakeholder uses and priorities."

      The four Utahans are Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

      As the recreation industry suggested, Herbert is going in a different direction. He signed legislation March 23 that requires the federal government to turn all public lands in Utah over to the state.

      Several steps are yet to be taken under the Utah law. The bill established a Constitutional  Defense Council and directed it to write legislation to administer the transfer of federal lands. In addition the law called for the transfer of all federal lands enumerated in HB 148 to Utah by Dec. 31, 2014.

      The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance backs the OIA monument proposal and says the Utah government had it coming because of the March 23 state legislation. "But in truth, Utah politicians have invited this call for greater protection of Greater Canyonlands. Governor Herbert's radical attack on our public lands - including filing 22 lawsuits against the federal government and signing a law demanding that the federal government give him 30 million acres of public land - is a threat not just to the wildlands of Southern Utah, but to the workers and businesses that rely upon those wildlands as part of the recreation economy," said Scott Groene, executive director of the association in a members.

      Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, said Congress and the public should be involved in any monument decision. "Utah successfully designated wilderness in Washington County, and is currently exploring further local and state efforts to designate wilderness appropriately with consideration of local communities and other multiple uses of public lands," she said. "The OIA proposal is another case of a single special interest group trying to circumvent local communities, elected officials and Congress because they don't want to do the hard work required."

      Like the BlueRibbon Coalition the powered recreation industry at large opposes monument status for fear that motored vehicles would be barred. "Unfortunately, motorized recreation is far too often shut out of National Monument areas," a coalition led by the Americans for Responsible Recreation Access wrote the President.

      The powered rec groups also object to the human-powered rec groups' description of a $646 billion recreation industry. "The same study shows that approximately $257 billion or nearly 40 percent of the total $646 billion in economic impact is derived from motorized recreation," said the motorized groups.

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