Save Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park: We need to protect natural wonders, not exploit them for oil

Utah is home to many wonderful national parks and monuments, and we are rightfully proud of our natural gifts. We regard Delicate Arch as Utah’s unofficial symbol and show it off on our license plates. Every year we attract millions of tourists with these outdoor natural wonders.

However, these tourist attractions are now facing danger. The mining and oil industries are strongly encouraging federal and state legislators to reduce in size or abolish altogether Utah’s largest national monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Some believe that the park might contain valuable natural resources. The mining and oil industries argue that by restricting usage of the land, we limit potential financial opportunities.

The problem with this position is that it is only a possibility-not a certainty-that Grand Staircase-Escalante contains significant amounts of useful natural resources.

Even if the land does contain ores and oil, it is almost certainly a relatively small amount.

The price to be paid for these minimal benefits include the destruction of American Indian ruins and the denial of future generations the chance to marvel at this unique landscape. Indeed, its rock formations and American Indian ruins are the main arguments that environmentalists and historians use to defend preservation of the land.

During his presidency, Bill Clinton created many national monuments in the Western states. Grand Staircase-Escalante was one of the most controversial.

Clinton proclaimed Grand Staircase-Escalante a 1.7 million-acre national monument in 1996. It remains largely undeveloped with limited services and rough roads.

The environmentalists won the first victory when Clinton declared the area a national monument, but that was not the end of the battle.

The president has the right to proclaim a national monument, as well as the right to reduce its status. The controversy heated up again with the election of President Bush, who is not known as a friend of environmental interests.

The mining and oil industries argue that since Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is largely undeveloped anyway, why not reduce its status-or at least shrink its boundaries-so that industry can make use of the land?

But to change the status of Grand Staircase-Escalante means more than just reducing the level of protection to one area-it means setting up a dangerous precedent.

No national monument or park has ever before lost its protection level and status.

If we allow Grand Staircase to be the first national park to have its status stripped, what is going to happen when the mining industry claims there could be ores in Arches National Park?

Just because Grand Staircase isn’t Utah’s most popular tourist attraction doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight as hard for it as we would Arches or Zion.

If it comes down to money, Grand Staircase-Escalante could bring the state financial gains through tourism dollars if it were developed instead of drilled.

Why should Utah sacrifice the opportunity for increased state revenues from this potential, albeit undeveloped, tourist attraction?

We need to look at the situation long-term and preserve the natural beauty and historical significance of Grand Staircase-Escalante rather than selling out to short-term corporate interests.

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