Utah lawmakers have passed House Concurrent Resolution 12 calling for a reduction in the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Business owners and residents operating and living near the monument met with Garfield County commissioners Tuesday to voice their concerns about a similar resolution being considered in that county.
Kelton Manzanares relocated his start-up technology company to Escalante from Boulder, Colorado so he could work from home and easily enjoy exploring protected public lands of the nearby monument.
“I can live wherever I want in the world and this is the most beautiful place in the world,” Manzanares said.
Although he has only lived in the area for a short time, he packed into a car on Tuesday to travel the 66 miles from his home to Panquitch to meet with Garfield County commissioners.
“Moving to Escalante and learning about some of the local issues and the lack of protection and the lack of representation of residents really started me to get involve with these types of issues,” he said.
Joining Manzanares on the trip was Melissa Webb. She moved there from Phoenix, Arizona.
“I’ve been to Escalante a number of times and during one of my trips decided I really didn’t want to leave,” Webb said. “A lot of us took the day off work today so we could go and make sure that there cannot be a claim made that all locals are in favor of diminishing the monument. That really is not the case. Escalante is a vibrant growing community that I really want to be a part of.”
The owner of Escalante Outfitters, Nate Waggoner, watched through the car window as a caravan of vehicles carrying public lands supporters made way for the meeting.
“You can just see the diversity of the people that are going over to speak, in this car, right now,” Waggoner said.
The group is asking commissioners to provide them with more details about the plan to reduce the size of the monument.
“What we don't know is what sections of the monument they are impacting, that is part of the vagueness of these resolutions” he said. “They could be taking anything from small parcels to the very things that people come out and enjoy and the places we take people that we’re permitted to take people out to.”
Looking to hire another full-time employee, Manzanares said businesses like his help boost the economy. Waggoner also employs residents who help with his horseback riding business, cabin rentals and sporting goods store.
“We came here, made a big investment, built up these small communities and we did that relying on the fact that our monument would exist, that this land was set aside for the people,” Waggoner said. “For them to yank that out from beneath us is bad business.”
In a recent Utah House Rules Committee hearing, Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock told lawmakers that farmers and ranchers are struggling because of the monument. He said land restrictions limit grazing and make it difficult for those families to make a living.
“So anybody that thinks this has been good for Escalante can go and ask those families that have left Escalante,” Pollock said. “They’re living somewhere else. They can’t live at home. Our number one export in Garfield County is our children, and that’s a fact. You can look it up. You don’t lose that many school children if we have an economic boom town okay, it just doesn’t happen.”
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the commission sent a letter to concerned citizens telling them a vote on the resolution would be postponed. Instead of voting on the resolution as planned, elected officials released details and scheduled a public hearing for March.
The Garfield County resolution is similar to one passed by the Kane County Commission and is in line with the Utah Legislatures House Concurrent Resolution, HCR 12, which passed Tuesday and is headed to Governor Herbert’s office for a possible signature.
HCR 12 gives Utah’s Congressional Delegation support from lawmakers to ask President Trump to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the minimal acreage required to protect antiquities within its boundaries.
President Bill Clinton created the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in 1996, using the power granted the President in the Antiquities Act.