Lariat Assistant Editor
Monticello High School
San Juan County is in jeopardy-- for real. November 12, one hundred-fourteen businesses sent a letter to President Obama expressing their concern about the environment of our land. They asked that the President would, under the authority of the Antiquities Act, sign off 1.4 million acres of land in San Juan, Grand, Wayne, Emery, and Garfield counties to become a national monument. The majority of this land comes from San Juan County, and resides mostly in our backyard. Although a monument could have positive assets, there are far more concerns about the restrictions that would come with it.
First, it would help to understand why a national monument has been requested. The two main groups supporting this proposition include SUWA (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) and the outdoor recreational retailers of the United States. SUWA’s main reason for pushing a national monument is to preserve the land. The outdoor recreational retailers’ reason is to preserve their economy. Although SUWA has claimed not to have any connection to the outdoor recreational retailers, the map for the proposed acreage is identical. They are very much united on this idea.
SUWA is mostly wanting to protect the land from everything. Whereas we understand that proper land management consists of scientifically organizing the industries upon its face, SUWA believes that proper land management means to completely abandon the land and leave it to its own devices.
As of now, they do not even have a management plan in place supposing the monument is accepted. They are afraid that in allowing oil and mineral extraction, the land will be ruined. They believe that land does not recover for hundreds of years; citing the remains of the old uranium plant to support this.
However, modern technology has provided for much cleaner industry than we had so many years ago. Also, when asked about the certain loss of jobs and the economic result, Neil Clark, SUWA representative, stated that “this monument should not be built upon economic gain or loss.” However, that is what our lives are tightly tied to-- take away our city’s economic profit, and we’re blown off the face of the map.
As for the outdoor recreational retailers, it is obvious that their main objective in supporting this monument is for personal profit. In their letter to President Obama, they state, “Wildlands are the foundational infrastructure for our industry [...] the future of our outdoor recreation economy depends on protecting iconic landscapes-- such as Greater Canyonlands.” The protection of the land is not mentioned until the very end, and almost as a sure-why-not afterthought. Based off of our information, it is very likely that the outdoor recreational retailers have very little interest in the actual preservation of land.
Furthermore, they state (by citing the Outdoor Industry Association’s data, no less) that outdoor recreation is an economic giant. However, the most profitable industry we have is that of mineral extraction. With the materialization of this monument would come a dematerialization of that industry; our biggest money-maker would be squashed. Even if we did pit outdoor recreational retailing profit against extraction profit, who exactly would be benefited? It is quite interesting to know that of the 114 supporting businesses, over half are not located in Utah. In fact, businesses from both Switzerland and the United Kingdom have been enlisted to endorse this proposal. Are our lives being dictated by foreign voices? Where in the world is our say-- in Utah, or in Vermont? And do these retailers need yet another recreational outlet to support their economy? Did Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Zion, and Arches plus the dozen other monuments of Utah all fail to financially support these businesses?
This monument wouldn’t be such a concerning idea if it wouldn’t greatly impact our lives. Not that I’m against the profit of outdoor recreational retailers or against environmental preservation. However, the problem with this monument is that it would obliterate the majority of the jobs supporting Monticello and the cities round about. SUWA has outrightly stated that their goal is to remove the extractive industries from off of the land. Furthermore, the livelihoods of ranchers would also be put at risk. Although present grazing rights would remain at first, the increasing restrictions of a national monument in the Greater Canyonlands area would eventually and assuredly drive ranchers out of business. We’ve already witnessed this with the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
In addition to the loss of very essential occupations (plus the local economy), the ordination of this monument would indirectly restrict other activity. Roads would be closed and motorized vehicles prohibited. This too would indirectly restrict ranchers. ATV’s would be banned. Hunting would be all but barred-- that in of itself would lose monetary profit and impact the environment. Both necessity and recreation would be wiped out as a result of a monument.
A national monument in the Greater Canyonlands area would be devastating. We’ve seen how it would benefit certain organizations, and how it would harm us; what we haven’t seen is how it would affect the Native Americans on the reservation. The population of San Juan County is 15,000 (a lot of lives on the line), out of which 8,000 people are Native American. For centuries these people have lived off the land, gathering wood for heat and construction and pine nuts for food. With very little natural resources as it is, it is highly necessary for them to be able to continue their use of the land. Yet, with the creation of the Greater Canyonlands National Monument, these people would be denied the prerequisites of their traditional life.
With just one signature, the Greater Canyonlands National Monument could be approved. Thousands of lives could be changed. And yet, this is entirely possible. Under the authority of the Antiquities Act, the current President of the United States is fully able to proclaim a national monument without approval from anyone else. This is what the pro-monument supporters are hoping for-- the approval from our one President as opposed to the approval of a majority. In fact, although the governor of Utah should have been contacted first about this, the letter requesting a monument was sent directly to the President. Not only this, but the Antiquities Act is mainly intended for the good of the public-- not the good of one specific industry.
Altogether, this monument is highly important. If it is approved, it is going to affect the entire 15,000 residents of San Juan County, plus everyone else in the four other counties. Extraction industries will be immediately removed-- this includes any mining or extraction of copper, uranium, potash, oil, and gas. Ranchers will survive a little longer, but just like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, they too will eventually be extinguished. Native Americans will be denied both tradition and necessity. EVERYONE could eventually lose their jobs as a result. There will be no more development of any kind on this land. There will be no more vehicles allowed. There will be no hunting. There will, however, be hikers-- highly enthusiastic hikers, and an entire 1.4 million acres of solitary, undisturbed land for them to traverse! No more dirty, despoiling oil rigs! No more cows eating the environmentally vital grass! No more eyesores! Just the Greater Canyonlands National Monument, you, and... NOT ME!