Monday, July 10, 2017

Grand Staircase-Escalante was set up to fail

...The forces arrayed against conservation in southern Utah were deeply rooted. County commissioners, state elected officials, the entire Utah congressional delegation — all were against the monument from the moment of its creation in 1996. They considered it a usurpation of local power, and they had acted at every chance to attack its legitimacy. Even the agency tasked with managing it — Shelton’s employer, the local field office of the Bureau of Land Management — sometimes seemed to conspire against its success. Shelton often felt her own colleagues were “moles” bent on undermining the mission. The Department of the Interior, which oversees the BLM, and Congress, which funds Interior, had not helped. By 2016, the budget for Grand Staircase had dropped to $4 million from $16 million in 2001. Three-quarters of the staff had been eliminated or driven out by political pressures. “Today, this monument office struggles to do the basic job,” Shelton told me recently. “We don’t have adequate funding, we don’t have adequate staff.”

...When Shelton started in 2001, the Staircase had 140 employees, with more than half involved in science and research. There were two full science divisions: Cultural and Earth Sciences and the Biological Sciences. The science staff included botanists, soil experts, hydrologists, geologists, archaeologists, paleontologists and ecologists. The BLM maintained a dedicated $1 million annual fund for university research on the monument.  

...The election of George W. Bush in 2000 signaled the beginning of the end of this. Funding cuts and subsequent staff losses accelerated throughout the 2000s. With the election of Barack Obama, the hope was that the death-by-thousand-cuts would be reversed. But it didn’t happen. “It wasn’t like any other Democratic administration,” said Shelton. “We expected better from Obama.” Today, the two science divisions are gone. There are fewer than 45 staffers. “There’s one guy left doing science, a paleontologist. Dr. Alan Titus,” Shelton said. “One guy. That’s it.”

You don't need a monument designation to conduct this science nor to protect these objects. Since the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906, Congress has passed the Historic Sites Act of 1935, National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, Archeological and Historic Preservation Act (AHPA) of 1974, Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) of 1979, and the Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990.  Review those statutes and you will see the Secretary of Interior has an abundance of authority to survey, identify, study and preserve any site or object of archeological significance. Further, under Section 204 of FLPMA, the Secretary has the authority to withdraw areas from all forms of disposal and from all mining and mineral leasing. A National Monument designation is not necessary to protect these areas, as all the agencies have to do is implement existing law. In either case, though, an adequate budget is necessary. 

The article is chock full of interesting things, including the following about BLM staff in Utah:

Over the years, said Shelton, she has seen coworkers display a naked contempt for the federal environmental and resource laws that limit traditional local practices on the public domain, such as the widespread grazing of livestock or the unrestricted use of off-road vehicles. Enmeshed in the web of local group and religious ties, these staffers often come from families of public-land ranchers who have run cows there for generations. They consider it their land, to be managed by locals, for locals. “With some of these people there’s a lack of acknowledgement that we’re part of the United States of America,” Shelton told me. “They don’t recognize that all Americans own this land, that it belongs to the people of Vermont and Florida and New York, too.” I asked her why, if they hate the feds, are they working for them. “Well, I’ve asked that myself. I don’t know that I have a clear answer,” said Shelton. “But it does translate into some real conflict at the office.” There is a toxic schism among employees at the Grand Staircase and in the Utah BLM generally. This is not just Shelton’s opinion; I spoke with four current employees at the Grand Staircase who confirmed her observation. On the one side are environmentally minded folks from outside the confines of Mormon culture, people like Shelton, who believe fervently in the federal public lands. Their ranks grew following the monument’s establishment in 1996 with the funding then available for hiring new staff, many of whom were trained at world-class science institutions. On the other side, said Shelton, I see a powerful anti-conservation interest, an anti-science interest, and certainly an anti-climate change position. I’ve sat in meetings with high-level people in Utah BLM who will roll their eyes when you mention climate change and say, ‘Well, if you believe it.’ You might as well be asking them to convert to Zoroastrianism. So our staffs are at odds with each other. There’s a lot of antagonism. It’s a really difficult place to work.”
If you have an interest in federal lands policy you should read this article.  No matter my disagreement on some of the issues, this is interesting stuff and congrats to High Country News for sponsoring this type of journalism


twinpine said...

My "sediments" exactly! BLM could have continued protection, and the public could have still enjoyed. I hadn't included that Scientists could have still studied, in my comments.

Anonymous said...

Ramming a monument down the people’s throats who have loved the lands for generations and telling them what is good for them is never going to fly in Utah or other places, and it cannot be blamed on the Mormon factor. Her attitude and comments just made me cringe. We know what is good for our area and don’t need people from other places coming in and telling us what we need to do and not do and making rules for us.

bugsy said...

lol...a lot has been left out of this article. Agree w/Anonymous said comment. The Nat'l monuments r no longer controlled by the United States.