Cattle rustling from the Federal Government, blockading roads, sugar in gas tanks, slashed tires, and Bill Clinton Hanged in effigy from local street lampposts—just another day in the battle over who and what gets priority in the recently established Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. So who should get priority? Ranchers want to keep grazing rights they’ve had for generations—oil interests want to use exploration rights they believe they were guaranteed—coal interests want the enormous amount of coal under the monument—local communities want the jobs and revenue from resource extraction and they want to drive wherever they please—should these historical interests be allowed to control the monument, inevitably placing economic profit before environmental preservation? Or, should environmentalists and the long-gone Clinton Administration define control—closing roads, banning mining, expelling cattle, and possibly turning the monument into another Colorado Plateau tourist destination? In Utah where the Federal Government owns over one third of the land, locals are getting desperate to keep some control. But others challenge whether they are environmentally responsible enough to have majority say in monument management. The Clinton Administration feared that resource extraction was threatening the area and virtually overnight the decision was made to make Escalante-Grand Staircase the largest National Monument in the lower 48 states. A natural treasure rich in valuable natural resources, the monument and how it will be managed has sparked a new kind of range war in the West.


“In protecting Grand Staircase-Escalante, we live up to our obligation to preserve our natural heritage. We are saying very simply, our parents and grandparents saved the Grand Canyon for us; today, we will save the grand Escalante.”—President Bill Clinton, announcement of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument[1].

In 1996, just prior to Election Day, President Clinton issued a proclamation declaring the 1.7 million acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante a National Monument. It was a controversial move staunchly opposed by Utah legislators, local townspeople, and the resource extraction industries. It was largely a unilateral decision by Clinton, who invoked the 1906 Antiquities Act to avoid a lengthy process where local and state officials would have to be consulted.

The 1906 Antiquities Act:

The Antiquities Act of 1906 “authorizes the President, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and to reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”—Antiquities Act of 1906[2].

The Antiquities Act was originally a response to theft and destruction of archaeological sites. It was designed to provide an expeditious means to protect federal lands and resources. By invoking the Antiquities Act presidents can avoid the lengthy EIS process, which would require a thorough review and input from locals and state legislators. 14 Presidents have invoked the Antiquities Act more than 100 times to establish National Monuments totaling 10% of all federally held land. Many of those monuments have later become our National Parks through congressional action. One popular example is Grand Canyon National Park, which started out as a 0.8 million-acre National Monument under the Antiquities Act, and is now a 1.2 million-acre National Park.

Who gets to manage? National Park Service (NPS) vs. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

“Mining jobs are good jobs, and mining is important to our national economy and to our national security. But, we can’t have mines everywhere, and we shouldn’t have mines that threaten our national treasures.”—President Bill Clinton[3].

In his proclamation declaring Grand Staircase-Escalante a National Monument, Clinton set a precedent by placing control of the monument in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The National Park Service has managed most other National Monuments. In the proclamation declaring Grand Staircase-Escalante a National Monument, Clinton order the BLM to establish a general management plan by 1999 (3 years). The management plan was to fit with the directive of the Antiquities Act, but Clinton put several stipulations in his proclamation which have affected the way the monument has been, and will be, managed.

Existing land rights: A history of resource extraction, grazing, and motor vehicle use: Historically, Utah legislators have favored the economic value over non-use and recreational value of public lands. Utah State Officials were never in favor of National Monument status because it hampers their ability to gain revenue from resource extraction. The estimated value of energy and mineral resources in the monument is between $223 and $331 billion. In 1996 there were 89 valid leases to mine for oil and gas, two companies held a number of coal mining leases, and there were dozens of claims for other minerals (gold, silver, etc.) In the proclamation, Clinton ensured that “valid and existing rights” to explore and extract resources would be honored[4]. However, the BLM has ensured that any new development on the monument will undergo a much more thorough environmental review process. This prompted many leaseholders to pursuit land exchanges with the BLM. One high profile example is Andalex Corporation’s planned coalmine on the Kaiparowits plateau (the middle of the monument). The mine would have provided 2.5 million tons of coal a year, or approximately $1.4 billion over 30 years.[5] Two years after the area was declared a National Monument, Andalex sold its leases back to the BLM for $17 million, ending the possibility of a coal mine in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument[6].

Cattle have been grazing on Grand Staircase-Escalante since the Mormons settled the area. In 1999 there were still 186 grazing permits with over 82,000 cattle in the monument. President Clinton’s proclamation declared that cattle could still graze under current grazing laws. Environmentalists who claim cattle destroy the very ecosystems the monument is supposed to protect have opposed grazing in the monument. Recently, in an effort to remove cattle from the monument the Grand Canyon Trust has been buying grazing allotments and turning them over to the BLM to be permanently retired. To date this has removed cattle from over 250,000 acres of the monument and has stirred up a controversy between the BLM and ranchers. (Learn more about grazing allotment retirement in the Clark Bench/Escalante grazing allotment retirement management issue.) In response ranchers have organized into the Canyon Country Ranchers Association and have filed suit to keep grazing allotments in the monument open.


"Everybody here hates the BLM. If the place local office burned down, you'd have a car parade going by"-Quinn Griffin, local rancher .

"You can't pick up a rock, you can't cut a post, you can't fix a fence, you can't, you can't, you can't, you know what I mean? It's just another way to get us off."-Del LeFevre, local rancher .

In a region where politics and local attitudes favor economic exploitation, a management plan with an emphasis on resource protection was cause for rebellion. Most of the local population opposed a National Monument at Grand Staircase-Escalante because they saw mining and resource extraction as the only economic hope for their federal land-dependent region. Since increased environmental regulation shut down the logging industry, household incomes in Kane County have dropped while the average number of people working in each family has increased. The Andalex coalmine would have provided hundreds of jobs to the counties surrounding the Monument (Kane County and Garfield County). Environmentalists and the BLM contend the increase in tourism to the area will offset any negative economic impacts of National Monument status. Some locals agree and have begun to adapt, but others argue the type of employment offered in a tourist economy, flipping burgers, changing sheets, etc., won't provide a livable wage or sustainable living.

The oldest form of commerce in the area, cattle ranching, is dug in for a battle over grazing allotments in the monument. Although the mandate from President Clinton did not change any laws pertaining to grazing, the Approved Management Plan calls for more regulation and protection of sensitive areas including some rangeland. BLM managers are keeping a closer eye on range conditions and enforcing rules and laws that have were previously ignored. This has led to tense relations between local ranchers and monument managers.

"We are required to manage this land for grazing, for wildlife and for other multiuses. Not just for today. That means that if we determine that this range land cannot sustain more grazing, we must ask the permitees to move their cattle."-Kate Cannon, BLM manager of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument .

"It's a serious situation when they take your cattle and sell them without giving you a chance. Everybody here believes this is happening because of the monument."-Quinn Griffin, local rancher .

In late 2001, due to drought and poor condition of the range the BLM ordered herds removed from an overgrazed section of the monument. Most ranchers complied, but three, Mary Bulloch, Gene Griffin, and Quinn Griffin refused. Their cattle were eventually rounded up and confiscated by the BLM. But, before they could be sold the ranchers "rustled" them back under the watch of the local Sheriff. The Sherriff said he let the ranchers take the cattle to diffuse a "waco situation" . For the BLM this meant their authority to manage lands in the monument is being severely threatened.

"Wilderness is no use to us. All wilderness does is tie up natural resources, and resources are what made America great."-Maloy Dodd, Garfield County Commissioner .

Another battle has broken out over possible Wilderness designation for parts of the monument. The Approved General Management Plan called for several wilderness study areas (areas for possible Wilderness designation) in the monument. To keep the study areas from ever becoming wilderness, three local counties (Garfield, Kane, and San Juan) graded and developed jeep tracks and footpaths thereby making them ineligable under the Wilderness Act. The counties used an old law allowing local governments to construct highways across federal lands to justify the roads to nowhere. However, a judge ruled that the counties had misused the law and ordered a stop to all such activity.

"We're trying to make lemonade out of the lemon we've been given."-Joe Judd, Kane County Commissioner .

Local residents are beginning to see some of the economic benefits of a boom in tourism-tourist numbers doubled to 1 million in 1997 and continue to grow. There are still many who are stubborn in their ways and wish to maintain life in the old ways but it is clear the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is here to stay and life in and around it will change. Environmental groups are watching the tourist numbers with a wary eye. Overcrowding of National Parks and Monuments on the Colorado Plateau has become a major problem. Grand Staircase-Escalante NM was mandated to provide a more natural setting with little or no development of tourist resources in the monument boundaries. But, if tourist numbers continue to increase the positive environmental effects of designating the area a National Monument may be lost under the boots of millions of people loving the land to death.

The Approved General Management Plan (GMP)-where it stands today: Local oppositions to the GMP has moved into the courts. Battles over grazing, proposed wilderness areas, and resource exploration have gone to court. The federal government won the battle over un-needed roads in wilderness study when a federal judge ruled that counties had illegally created roads into these areas. The battle over grazing on the monument has just gone to court and is expected to last some time. Oil, gas, and other resource exploration has been pushed by the Bush Administration, but environmentalists promise to sue if further exploration is undertaken. Current Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, has promised to review monuments created by the Clinton Administration, this includes size of monuments and management plans . She has also promised to work closely with local government and industry when solving management problems. This has worried many environmentalists who believe this will lead to management focused less on ecology and more on economic profit.


When he declared Grand Staircase-Escalante a National Monument, President Clinton directed the BLM to develop a comprehensive General Management Plan that would both preserve the natural state of the monument and allow for multiple uses. The plan was to be completed in three years after an EIS and a public involvement period of 90 days. The BLM obeyed and in late 1999 a General Management Plan was approved. As always, the plan was surrounded with controversy over who and what should benefit. The BLM Approved Plan was the most ecologically protective plan out of the alternatives. It calls for management that will maintain the wilderness aspect of the Grand Staircase-Escalante area. The Approved Plan's major management emphases include:

"(1) Management of uses to protect and prevent damage toMonument resources. (2) Facilitation ofappropriate scientific research activities. (3) Designation of a transportation system for the Monument
and prohibition of all cross-country vehicle travel. (4) Identification of protection measures for special status, plant and animal species, riparian areas, and other special resources. (5) Identification of measures to ensure water is available for the proper care and management of objects in the Monument. (6) Accommodation of recreation by providing minor recreation facilities for visitors. Major visitor facilities will be located in surrounding communities in order to protect resources and promote economic
development in the communities. (7) Establishment of a Monument Advisory Committee (chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act) to advise managers via an adaptive management strategy for implementing the Plan. (8) Commitments to work with local and State governments, Native American Indian tribes, organizations, and Federal agencies to manage lands or programs for mutual benefit consistent with other Plan decisions and objectives. (9) Recommendation of approximately 252 miles of river segments as suitable for designation as Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSR)"-Approved Management Plan .

Contacts For More Information:



[1] Larmer, Paul A Bold Stroke: Clinton takes a 1.7 million-acre stand in Utah High Country News Sept 30, 1996.

[2] The White House press release, Establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; a proclamation by the president of the United States of America. Sept 18, 1996. PG 2. Available at

[3] Barnard, Geoff Grand Staricase-Escalante, our NEW National Monument Colorado Plateau Advocate. Sept. 1996 pg 2. Available at

[4] Hardy-Vincent, Carol Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument CRS Report for Congress. Dec 21, 1998 PG 4. Available at

[5] Larmer, Paul This monument was just plain stupid High Country News. April 14, 1997. Available at Available at

[6] Hardy-Vincent, Carol Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument CRS Report for Congress. Dec 21, 1998. Available at

[7] An outline of the Approved Management Plan is available from the EPA at

[8] Cart, Julie Amid Drought, A Range War Erupts in Utah Over Grazing Restrictions Los Angeles Times. Dec 26, 2000 PG A1.

[9] Levitt-Ryckman, Lisa Last, Best wild land; fear and arguments swirl like dust devils around southern Utah’s Escalante monument Denver Rocky Mountain News. Dec 15m 1996 PG A30.

[10] Cart, Julie Amid Drought, A Range War Erupts in Utah Over Grazing Restrictions Los Angeles Times. Dec 26, 2000 PG A1.

[11] Cart, Julie Amid Drought, A Range War Erupts in Utah Over Grazing Restrictions Los Angeles Times. Dec 26, 2000 PG A1.

[12] Cart, Julie Amid Drought, A Range War Erupts in Utah Over Grazing Restrictions Los Angeles Times. Dec 26, 2000 PG A1.

[13] Jackson, Rachel Counties cross the yellow line High Country News. July 30, 2001.Available at

[14] Hanscom, Greg Grand Staircase-Escalante in the spotlight High Country News Dec 7, 1998. Available at

[15] Grand Canyon Trust web article Arizona Strip National Monuments.