Opposing rallies were held near Rotary Park on Friday, Mar. 29, over the proposal to create Greater Canyonlands national monument.
The protests were generally polite and orderly with the two groups keeping to opposite sides of the street near the intersection of East Mill Creek Dr. and Loveridge Dr.
The Sagebrush Coalition, whose members oppose the creation of the monument, was represented by less than ten individuals who remained at tented tables on private property.
The counter-rally organized by Canyon Country Rising Tide consisted of approximately 60 individuals, many of whom had picket signs and banners painted with a variety of slogans related to the monument.
The supporters of the monument gathered in Rotary Park and marched to East Mill Creek Dr. at 4 p.m.
The group marched past the Sagebrush Coalition’s booths, continuing to the intersection with 400 East. From there they turned around and returned to Rotary Park, passing the Sagebrush Coalition again.
Several members of the counter protest, including Emily Stock, the director of Canyon Country Rising Tide, and Mathew Gross, the media director for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), approached the organizers of the Sagebrush Coalition rally to talk about the proposed national monument.
The Sagebrush Coalition declined their offer, asking them to leave the property.
“Eventually we will have to talk, and everyone will benefit when we do,” Gross said.
Though the battle over how to balance conservation with recreational access in southeast Utah has been going on for decades, the issue came to a head last fall when the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) sent a letter to President Obama asking him to create Greater Canyonlands national monument.
The proposed national monument would include approximately 1.8 million acres of land, 1.4 million acres of which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) according to a Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) map. The letter’s signers include more than 40 Utah businesses and outdoor industry giants such as Patagonia and Mountain Hardware.
The OIA believes that the creation of the national monument is necessary due to current federal land management plans that “inappropriately open scenic and undeveloped land to drilling and mining and fail to address exploding off-road vehicle use that is damaging riparian areas, cultural sites, soils and solitude.”
The inclusion of off-road vehicle use in the letter is the main reason that groups like the Sagebrush Coalition and Ride with Respect are concerned.
Though the OIA and its supporters say that the national monument designation is meant to limit resource development, some off-roading groups worry that it is a step toward increasing limitations.
“No one can really say for sure (how Greater Canyonlands national monument would be managed) because monuments are managed in a variety of ways,” said Cliff Koontz, the program director at Ride with Respect. “It might be a rather slippery slope.”
Another concern the groups cite is what they see as the federal government overstepping its role.
“If Obama were to proclaim the monument it would take the local voice even further out of the equation. The reason for local influence is that local people are the most affected and most familiar with the land,” Koontz said.
The businesses and organizations that support the proposed national monument insist that their aim is to protect the area from resource extraction so that conservation and recreation can continue. That includes keeping most trails open for off-roading, said Scott Groene, the executive director of SUWA.
“Access would not be eliminated. The folks in Moab that use a 4-wheel drive to get out to Greater Canyonlands would not see a change if they are using a route to get to a destination,” he said.
Groene believes that there is a misunderstanding of what the national monument would mean.
He said that the only thing that the national monument would change is to withdraw extractive mineral leases and all current leases would still be honored. All of the other rules governing the use of the national monument would be worked out through a public process that would determine the management plan, Groene said.
If Greater Canyonlands national monument were designated, the rules currently governing the area would remain the same until the management plan is completed, Gross, SUWA’s media director, said.
Opponents of the monument fear that it will limit access to the area. The opposite is true said Groene; access will actually be preserved by limiting the damage of extractive industries to the area.
The SUWA petition for the protection of the Greater Canyonlands stated “despite the scenic, geologic, ecological and cultural sites in the Greater Canyonlands, the BLM has staunchly resisted calls to protect it from ORVs (off-road vehicles).”
The petition requested to “bar the use of ORVs on 1050 miles of route (out of 2,500 miles present in the area) within the Greater Canyonlands until the BLM completes comprehensive, site-specific studies.”
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what a monument designation would (mean),” said Stock, the director of Canyon Country Rising Tide. “Our goal is to inform the other side that they won’t be shut out by the designation.”
In January the Grand County Council sent a letter to President Obama unanimously opposing the creation of the national monument by presidential decree.
The letter stated that Grand County’s economy derives from all forms and types of recreation and that the county prides itself on being an outdoor recreation adventure destination.
Sandy Tangren, one of the organizers of the Sagebrush Coalition’s rally, said that more local businesses are opposed to the designation than are for it. Tangren claimed that between 50 and 75 local businesses have come out against the national monument, versus the 17 local businesses that signed the OIA’s letter.
Tangren said that this is a battle that has been going on for decades. She feels that the 4-wheelers, miners and ranchers keep compromising and giving up more and more land.
“We are tired of land grabs. Compromise is not really an option in my mind right now,” Tangren said.
The real battle, said Tracy Martinez, the other organizer of the Sagebrush Coalition’s event, is to abolish of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to unilaterally create national monuments.
Several members of the Sagebrush Coalition expressed that their families have for generations had access to the areas within the proposed national monument.
“I want to raise my kids the way I was raised,” said John Martinez, Tracy’s husband.
But SUWA’s Gross said the huge increase in the number of people who visit those areas means that something has to change. Either greater protections need to be placed on land or the natural beauty will start to degrade.
“They want things to stay as they are, but things can’t stay as they are,” he said. “There is a future coming and we have to make a choice on what we want that to look like.”