President Clinton’s designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Proclamation 6920 of September 18, 1996, was a watershed moment for conservation in the United States. Proclamation 6920 represents the first time a President designated a national monument under the Antiquities Act to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, signaling the dawn of the modern era of Antiquities Act protection and a reawakening of conservation efforts on public lands in the West.
Proclamation 6920 describes the rich mosaic of objects of historic and scientific interest across Grand Staircase-Escalante. Proclamation 6920 details the monument’s varied geology, from the cliffs of the Grand Staircase in the west, to the fossil-rich formations in the Kaiparowits Plateau that demonstrate billions of years of geology infused with world-class paleontological sites, to the badlands of the Burning Hills in the center, to the intricate and complex system of canyons in the Escalante region in the east. The proclamation goes on to describe the area’s rich human history, spanning from the indigenous people and cultures who made this area home to Anglo-American explorers and early Latter-day Saint pioneers. The proclamation further identifies outstanding biological resources, describing the monument as “in the heart of perhaps the richest floristic region in the Intermountain West,” spanning five life zones and supporting diverse, rare, and endemic populations of plants and a diversity of animals, as well as unusual and diverse soils that support communities of mosses, lichens, and cyanobacteria. In addition, the proclamation describes the vast opportunities for additional scientific research and discovery within the monument. Grand Staircase-Escalante has become the focus of a multi-disciplinary study of its large landscape for the benefit of current and future generations.
After the monument was established, the Congress adjusted the boundaries or ratified the acquisition of additional lands within the monument on three separate occasions, in some cases adding lands, in other cases subtracting lands. When the Congress had completed its fine-tuning, it had increased the monument’s reservation by more than 180,000 acres, bringing the total Federal lands within the monument boundaries to approximately 1.87 million acres.
Remarkably, given its size, in the 25 years since its designation, Grand Staircase-Escalante has fulfilled the vision of an outdoor laboratory with great potential for diverse and significant scientific discoveries. During this period, hundreds of scientific studies and projects have been conducted within the monument, including investigating how the monument’s geology provides insight into the hydrology of Mars; discovering many previously unknown species of dinosaurs, some of which have become household names; unearthing some of the oldest marsupial fossils ever identified; conducting extensive inventories of invertebrates, including the identification of more than 600 species of bees, some of which likely exist nowhere else on Earth; performing hydrologic research in the Escalante River and Deer Creek; studying and restoring habitat for amphibians, mammals, and bird species, including the reintroduction of bighorn sheep and pronghorn to their native range; completing rangeland science assessments, including a complete Level III soils survey; carrying out widespread archaeological surveys that have documented important sites and rock writings; and implementing social science projects related to visitor experiences and impacts. New scientific discoveries are likely just around the corner; for example, scientists have collected thousands of specimens of invertebrates from the monument that await further study and are expected to yield new species that are endemic to the monument. Scientists have utilized every corner of the monument in their efforts to better understand our environment, our history, our planet’s past, and our place in the universe.
On December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Proclamation 9682 to reduce the monument by over 860,000 acres. Proclamation 9682 removes protection from objects of historic and scientific interest across the Grand Staircase-Escalante landscape, including some resources Proclamation 6920 specifically identifies for protection. Multiple parties challenged Proclamation 9682 in Federal court, asserting that it exceeded the President’s authority under the Antiquities Act.
Restoring the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to its size and boundaries as they existed prior to December 4, 2017, will ensure that this exceptional and inimitable landscape filled with an unparalleled diversity of resources will be properly protected and will continue to provide the living laboratory that has produced so many dramatic discoveries in the first quarter century of its existence. Given the unique nature of the objects identified across the Grand Staircase-Escalante landscape, the threat of damage and destruction to those objects, and the current inadequate protection they are afforded, a reservation of this size is the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic and scientific interest named in this proclamation and Proclamation 6920.
The entire Grand Staircase-Escalante landscape — stretching from Skutumpah Terrace and the escarpments of the Grand Staircase in the west, Nipple Bench, Smoky Mountain, the Burning Hills, Grand Bench, the East and West Clark Benches, and Buckskin Mountain in the south, the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail that runs through the Escalante Desert, Upper Escalante Canyons, and Circle Cliffs in the northeast, and Alvey Wash and the Blues in the north — is an object of historic and scientific interest requiring protection under the Antiquities Act. There are innumerable objects of historic or scientific interest within this extraordinary landscape. Some of the objects are also sacred to Tribal Nations, rare, fragile, or vulnerable to vandalism and theft, or are dangerous to visit and, therefore, revealing their specific names and locations could pose a danger to the objects or the public.
High, rugged, and remote, the vast and austere Grand Staircase-Escalante landscape is characterized by bold plateaus and multihued cliffs that run for distances that defy human perspective. It is also home to world-famous slot canyons that are so deep and narrow that sunlight almost never penetrates their ultimate depths, and pools of numbingly cold water remain throughout the hottest months. Despite being the last place in the contiguous United States to be mapped and remaining a remote and primitive landscape to this day, the Grand Staircase-Escalante area has a long and dignified human history. The landscape teems with evidence of the efforts expended by both indigenous people and…
Read More: A Proclamation on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument