Has Vandalism in Our National Monuments Gotten Worse?

Peter Jensen, an environmental coordinator for Patagonia who’s based in Salt Lake City, embarked with a colleague on a three-day backpacking trip through the Upper Paria River Canyon, a picturesque red rock canyon in southern Utah. “The place is magical,” Jensen said. “It’s a wilderness in the true sense of the word.”

Jensen was entranced by the scenery, but dismayed by what he saw at his feet. The Upper Paria is one small piece of the more than 850,000 acres cut from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by Donald Trump in December 2017. For the entire 35-mile route, Jensen said the land had been badly scarred by the hoofs of grazing cattle and the waffle-iron treads of off-road vehicles. (In spite of being removed from the monument, the canyon remains a wilderness study area and therefore off limits to vehicles.) “On almost every terrace and meander bank there were multiple vehicle tracks,” Jensen said. “In some places they were six to eight inches deep and went right through cyrptobiotic soil and cottonwood groves.”

Since President Trump issued an order to shrink the Utah monument last winter, there have been numerous reports from local residents, hikers, activists, and land managers of flagging oversight and mounting damage to the area’s fragile landscapes and cultural sites.

In recent months, they are encountering graffiti on petroglyph panels, bullet-riddled trail signs, ATV tracks in restricted areas, poaching of historic artifacts, and heaps of garbage in the backcountry.

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