For Immediate Release
August 23, 2019
Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, (435) 899-0204
KANAB, Utah – Western Watersheds Project, a conservation group advocating for public lands protection across the West, reacted with criticism today upon the release of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) Management Plan. The monument, which originally designated almost 2 million acres for protection, was the first such designation under the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System. In 2018, President Trump fractured the monument into three pieces and reduced it to 1.1 million acres. Today’s plan contains management direction for the fragmented pieces that remain, as well as for the 800,000 acres that were removed from the Monument.
“The BLM succeeded only in reducing resource protections for the Monument to the baseline level common to unprotected lands at your average BLM Field Office,” said Laura Welp, ecosystems specialist for Western Watersheds Project and a former GSENM botanist. “The management plan favors industrial use and degradation to the extent that GSENM barely qualifies as a unit in the National Lands Conservation System any longer. The initial promise of a new, innovative BLM monument with a science-based management plan for its unique and scientifically important geological and cultural features has disappeared.”
While increases in mining activity and motorized recreation draw much of the attention, the plan also introduces livestock grazing into popular recreation areas of the Escalante River that had previously been closed to cattle for decades, allowing sensitive riparian habitats along watercourses to recover. This reverses years of agreements between the State of Utah, ranchers, and conservation groups that have spent millions of dollars buying out grazing leases and restoring the area. Most of the monument remains open to livestock grazing under the new plan.
“The BLM has dragged its feet on writing a grazing management plan for the monument since 2003,” said Welp. “People come from all over the world to hike in the spectacular Escalante Canyons, and now all the hard work and taxpayer dollars that went into getting rid of the cattle and restoring the canyons will be all for naught.”
In addition, the new plan removes former limits on projects that entail vegetation destruction and restrictions on seeding with ecologically-harmful non-native plants.
“Many of these so-called ‘treatments’ are disguised as restoration projects, but in reality are thinly-veiled boondoggles intended to increase forage for cattle and game species,” said Welp. “The new plan allows overgrazing and damage to soil, water, and vegetation. The ‘treatment’ then fails, and the BLM says they must re-treat to restore the area. It’s a vicious cycle that, under this plan, will be even harder to break.”
Disputing claims of ‘fairness,’ Welp observes, “Local BLM officials have been wanted eliminate Monument protections since the Monument was established. The BLM has been operating GSENM as a monument-in-name-only for many years at the behest of industrial and commercial interests. This plan simply codifies that arrangement.”
Western Watersheds Project is part of a coalition suing the Trump administration over the illegal reduction of GSENM. If successful, the BLM will be forced to abandon this management plan, which cost $2,303,000 to produce. “We intend to make sure GSENM is able to fulfill its original promise to be a stellar example of responsible, science-based management that prioritizes resource protection over industrial uses such as coal mining and cattle grazing.”