More than 100 outdoor-recreation companies formally petitioned President Barack Obama to designate a 1.4 million acre national monument surrounding Canyonlands National Park.
In response, The Sagebrush Coalition met Tuesday, Nov. 20 at the Grand Center and circulated a petition among the approximately 100 people who attended the meeting. The list of the more than 100 outdoor-recreation companies was circulated among the crowd to encourage individuals to call the businesses, voice their complaints and boycott.
The Sagebrush Coalition is a grassroots organization to preserve public lands access for motorized vehicles.
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman said the monument “would change life as we know it” at the Sagebrush Coalition meeting.
“We don’t need an executive order,” he said. “It is giving up our freedoms. Everybody is affected by this.”
He cited the rich deposits of minerals within the proposed boundaries of the national monument, “This is wealthy country: Copper, potash, vanadium.”
This monument, he said would affect local economics.
“It would go from mineral based economy to tourism based economy,” he said.
Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling, said the monument proposal is directly related to protecting recreation business from drilling and mining. Korenblat was one of the business owners that signed the letter petitioning the president to establish a national monument.
“It’s about managing the area for recreation jobs. It’s all about how recreation and resource extraction interact, because the system tends to favor resource extraction,” Korenblat said. “We want to prohibit some resource extraction. Recreation provides long-term sustainable jobs so we don’t want to accidently wreck it by allowing resource extraction to proceed on unequal footing.”
James Tibbetts, chairman of the Sagebrush Coalition, said the move to create the national monument is a ploy by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
“They took the Red Rock Act that they couldn’t get passed through congress and repackaged it,” Tibbetts said.
Utah Congressman Wayne Owens first introduced SUWA’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in 1989. The act been reintroduced in every session of Congress since, but has never been debated on the floor.
SUWA now prominently displays the effort to “Protect Greater Canyonlands” on the front page of their web site.
“President Obama has the power to protect Greater Canyonlands with the stroke of a pen — if we can convince him to do so,” states SUWA’s website plea to encourage citizens to petition the president to create a national monument.
Utahns opposing the national monument are most concerned about how it can be created by the president’s “stroke of a pen”.
"We certainly hope we don't have another Bill Clinton approach to creating a monument," said Utah Governor Gary Herbert in a statement issued by his top aides.
President Clinton created the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kane and Garfield counties in 1996 by using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Antiquities Act gives the president authority by executive order to restrict the use of public land owned by the federal government.
Jeremy McElhaney said President Clinton hurt Utah’s economy by preventing mining within the national monument.
“The Kaiparowits Plateau in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has clean coal. Now it is gone forever. It would have provided 2,000 jobs for 200 years,” McElhaney said.
McElhaney said he felt the national monument proposal was a response to House Bill 148, “which demands the federal government make good on the promises made in the 1894 Enabling Act to extinguish title to federal lands in Utah.”
Nearly 70 percent of the land in Utah is owned by the federal government.
The bill was signed in March by the governor, giving the federal government until 2014 to relinquish control over nearly 47,000 square miles of land in Utah — national forests, federal range lands, national recreation areas and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
McElhaney doesn’t believe President Obama would create Canyonlands National Monument, due to the debt crisis.
“The federal government is not in the position to take on more bureaucracy. This is unlikely to go forward,” he said. However, he did encourage the audience at the Sagebrush Coalition meeting to take action. “Call your state legislature. Call the governor, senators and congressmen.”
In the letter sent to President Obama, outdoor-industry leaders said that Utah is blessed with a $4 billion recreation economy that's more important than mining or oil-and-gas drilling on federal lands around Canyonlands National Park.
Andy Lewis disagrees with the idea that the national monument would protect the recreation industry. Instead, he said, it would threaten “adventure recreation”.
Lewis, a world-renowned slackliner who performed during the 2012 Superbowl half-time show, moved to Moab three years ago.
“What I love about living here is going out and getting lost. I don’t want to destroy the environment, but we don’t want to destroy our freedom. The freedom to explore the desert; the freedom to get lost,” he said at the Sagebrush Coalition meeting. “This is not the best plan. Protect it, but do not make it a national monument.”
He said the only thing a national monument would do is bring in more tourists, and send those tourists to high traffic zones.
“We’d be standing against adventure recreation,” he said. “There has to be some midway.”
The Associated Press and Travis Holtby contributed to this story.