You’ve probably heard news of possible national monument designations for Utah’s San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa, and of the ensuing furor from some Utah officials who don’t want federal protection for these special places. The outcry comes despite the fact that over the last 100+ years, presidents from both political parties have designated national monuments in Utah. Many were initially controversial, though they resulted in the long-term protection of some of our most iconic and beloved landscapes, including Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef – all of them now national parks. More recently, President Clinton designated the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the chagrin of powerful coal mining interests. Many in the Escalante area now enjoy the benefits of the nearby monument, which draws visitors from around the world.
Attempts by Utah’s Senator Bennett and Representative Bishop to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act are misguided. The lands in question are already federal and lie under the clear authority of the BLM to administer in the national interest.
Cedar Mesa and the San Rafael Swell are being considered for monument designation because their national significance been recognized for decades. Both are included in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and SUWA is working to provide them with the highest form of protection: wilderness designation. We are doing this by continuing to push for passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Congress and through constructive dialogue with local leaders, the Utah congressional delegation, and congressional champions of redrock wilderness. For example, over the last year in Emery County (which encompasses most of the San Rafael Swell), we have been meeting and taking field trips with county officials and other stakeholders, resulting in productive discussions about potential wilderness legislation. If conservationists and county officials can reach an agreement over wilderness designation, we believe those lands would be taken out of consideration for national monument designation. Officials in San Juan County, where Cedar Mesa lies, have also indicated an interest in developing wilderness legislation.
Please send Secretary Salazar a message today asking him to use his considerable authority under the law to protect Utah’s wild landscapes and help move wilderness designation forward.