Land Grab of the Worst Kind
By Vic Saunders
Southern Utah is a colorful, yet desolate place. Water is scarce in this slickrock desert, and what wildlife exists there consists mostly of lizards and other desert species. Life in an upland desert environment is hard. The people living in the region eke out a living on ranches hundreds of years old, or work off the ranch in jobs in the petroleum, mining or the minimum wage tourism service industries. A desert highlands timber industry, once very productive and a good wage earner for these families, was recently closed after environmentalists succeeded in adding new regulations which made this industry unprofitable.
It's no wonder, then, that many of these ranch families were looking forward to the opportunity offered by a proposed trillion dollar underground coal mining development in this hostile country. The low sulfur coal found in southern Utah burns clean, and is highly prized for this environmental benefit, particularly in electricity starved eastern U.S. cities and the Pacific Rim. Families saw the mine as a way to stay on their ranches and, hopefully, provide a way to keep their children from moving away to seek jobs in Denver, Salt Lake City, or Phoenix.
But with the stroke of a pen, President Clinton ended all that. After precious little discussion with Utah's governor and congressional delegation, and with no input at all from the local population whose lives would be severely impacted, the President designated almost two million acres of southern Utah as a new national monument.
Utah already had five national parks and six national monuments. Seventy percent of Utah lands already belonged to the federal government, and almost four million acres of that is off limits to any economic development because of wilderness designation or the potential for it.
So why did the President take this move? Perhaps it is political payback to the Robert Redfords and Barbra Streisands of the world, who promised to deliver the environmental vote in election-critical California if he would make a significant "offering" to their cause. That offering proved to be the lives, hopes and dreams of the residents of southern Utah, crushed in favor of the Grand Staircase-Canyons of the Escalante National Monument.
People who live in little towns like Kanab, Escalante and Boulder, Utah were helpless in stopping the President. A sign at a rally in Kanab the day of the signing perhaps said it all. "We, the people" had been crossed out, and in its place were the words, "I, the President." This was a federal land grab of the worst kind; one for political gain.
Vic Saunders is vice president of communications for the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.