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National Parks and Development

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From the beginning of the national parks, one concern environmentalists have had is turning the nation’s most beautiful places into over-developed and cheesy tourist attractions, or to not be protected from development at all. The first real battle over this was John Muir’s outraged protest against the Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park, something that led his former allies Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt to dismiss him as a crank. The dam was built and the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley lost. The growing numbers of car tourists in the national parks and the overdevelopment that caused played a major role in the developing wilderness movement by the 1940s. And as American prosperity after World War II led to a rush of weekend travelers to the national forests and national parks, the need for wilderness grew, leading to the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the millions of acres protected since.

These battles did not end with the Wilderness Act. When Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, he kept it under Bureau of Land Management control instead of giving it to the National Park Service. This happened because of environmentalists’ concerns that this beautiful and fragile place would be overrun with tourists and damaged, such as has happened at Arches National Park. Most of the big western national monuments created by both Clinton and Obama are managed the same way. Few paved roads, no services, pretty rugged trails. These monuments, largely in the desert, are intended to remain as undeveloped as possible and the people who get in there are people who really want to get in there. Limiting the impact of tourism is intended to preserve these areas.

As you know, a lot of people in the West, and especially in Utah, have been outraged by this. The grotesque evisceration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by Trump and the vile Ryan Zinke is a result of this. The people of Utah know that there is going to be some federal protection of this land. So they are trying to figure out how to game it to their advantage.

Utah legislators have officially registered their support for a bill that would create a new locally managed national park as well as three monuments in Utah.

The Senate is set to vote on Senate Concurrent Resolution 8. This kind of resolution shows the collective support of the Legislature. A Senate Committee has voted 6-1 to endorse SCR8. The resolution supports HR4558, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

The US bill would establish Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve, Kaiparowits National Monument, and Escalante Canyons National Monument in Kane and Garfield counties. The bill has come under fire from environmental groups.

The purpose of the national park and monument designations would be to “protect, conserve, and enhance the unique and nationally important historic, scenic, and natural resources; and recreation, including hunting; and grazing,” according to the resolution.

If it passes Congress, the bill would establish local control through a presidentially appointed management council made up of Utah residents to run the park and monuments, according to Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, the resolution sponsor.

Matt Anderson, director of the Coalition of Self-Government in the West with the Sutherland Institute, said he believes getting locals involved in the process will ensure a bright future for Utah’s rural communities, and if it passes, would give a vote of confidence to Kane and Garfield counties.

“The bill will establish the first locally managed national park in our nation’s history,” Anderson said. “This move recognizes the importance of this land to those who live closest to it and puts them in the driver’s seat to make decisions on how to protect and preserve this beautiful place.”

In other words, it will allow Utah residents to cash in on the park, tear it all to hell with roads, and create tourist infrastructure to make bank on it.

Now, you might say that’s not such a terrible thing. On many levels it absolutely is–a locally managed national park is a theme park, not a national park. You need managers more sophisticated than some ex-miner in Blanding looking to make a few bucks or less venal than some well-connected Utah financial person seeking to make millions. But on the tourist issue, it’s true that a lot of these places are not accessible to many travelers. The question is whether this is OK. I think it has to be. There are lots of great places that are plenty accessible. You can see all sorts of awesome things in Arches or Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, even if you are in a wheelchair. These questions come down to whether we see value in places left in a reasonably pristine state. If you think that has no value at all, then you might support this Utah proposal. If you think that has great value, you should be horrified by it.

The other thing going on is that Utah is looking to lock this down permanently before the next Democrat enters the White House and recreates the national monument boundaries Trump and Zinke destroyed. That’s another to resist this entirely. We can win those boundaries back.

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