BLM speeds ahead on Grand Staircase-Escalante plans

Federal authorities at Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are moving forward to create new plans for managing the area, despite several legal challenges to the monument’s boundaries. Conservationists say they are concerned about a rush to create new plans before the courts weigh in on the boundaries.

President Donald Trump last year announced he would shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.9 million acres to 1 million, dividing the Clinton-era monument into three distinct units. Trump’s proclamation stated that certain natural and archeological resources did not need protection because they were not unique to the area.

Several environmental groups and tribal nations immediately filed suit to overturn the proposed changes to Grand Staircase-Escalante, as well as to Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, which Trump said he wanted to reduce by 85 percent from an Obama administration designation.

Legal experts say Trump’s reduction of the monuments is unlikely to survive scrutiny in the courts. Nevertheless, the BLM appears to be moving ahead with management plans on an expedited timeframe. At Grand Staircase, three of the BLM’s new plans correspond to Trump’s new units, called Kaiparowits, Grand Staircase and Escalante Canyon.

A fourth plan will cover BLM acreage that had been a part of the Clinton designation and was removed from the monument. The Bureau of Land Management began accepting public comments in January related to the new plans; after public comment closes, the agency will produce draft plans. The public will have a chance to weigh in on those plans, once complete.

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