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This week, President Donald Trump called for a review of national monument designations and issued an executive order that threatens to undermine the Antiquities Act. This 1906 law has been used by both presidents of both parties to protect public lands as national monuments. It’s thanks to the Antiquities Act that sites of national importance — from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in my home state of Utah — are permanently protected.
This executive order is an attack on my community’s economic future and on America’s public lands heritage. I speak from firsthand experience about the positive impact national monuments have on our economy. I own Escalante Outfitters, which provides tours, lodging, food, and more to visitors of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Visitors come from across our country and the world to marvel at our colorful sandstone cliffs cascading across Utah’s largest network of slot canyons. These visitors are key to the success of local businesses.
Our story in Escalante is just one of many examples of communities across our nation benefiting economically from national monuments and the protection of public lands. This week, the Outdoor Retailers Association released new data that shows outdoor recreation supports more than 7.6 million American jobs and fuels $887 billion in direct consumer spending into our economy.
My business is an example of how outdoor recreation contributes to our country’s economy. Since we bought the company 11 years ago, Escalante Outfitters has flourished and expanded. We employ more people than ever, and we’ve extended our season by two months. Every new year breaks the revenue record we set the year before. We attribute this growth to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the fact that it put us on the map as a tourist destination.
Since the protection of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, our local tourism industry in Escalante has grown and is thriving. Two new hotels have been built — a clear indication that people want to visit — and there’s also signs that more and more people want to live here. Businesses are opening to keep up with demand from new residents, from a hardware store to a medical clinic and a dentist. Now, there’s even more jobs than there are people. While there are many factors that have contributed to this growth, in Escalante we see our national monument as the linchpin of our success.
This week, I’ve traveled to Washington, D.C., to share Escalante’s story of economic growth and my experience as a small business owner. Ours is a story born in Southern Utah, but it also exemplifies what other communities with national monuments experience. Data from researchers at the nonpartisan Headwater Economics backs this up; they found that regions around national monuments have seen continued growth or improvement in employment and personal income.
President Trump’s executive order has the potential to undermine the Antiquities Act — one of our nation’s most important conservation tools. The executive order calls on the Department of Interior to review prior monument designations — an attack on places that are important economic drivers for our country. No president has attempted such a sweeping review previously and with good reason; no president has the legal authority to eliminate a national park or national monument. Legal scholars are in agreement on this important point.
I think the president will find that this type of attack on our national monuments and public lands is deeply unpopular. In 2017, Colorado College conducted a poll that found only 13 percent of Western voters supported removing protections for existing monuments. Conversely, 80 percent of Western voters supported keeping these protections in place. These numbers come as no surprise to me; after all, our national monuments and public lands help define who we are as a nation, protect stunning landscapes, and tell a story of our history and culture.
I’m well acquainted with the magic that draws people to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and how powerful it can be to explore the lands and experience that level of solitude. I still hike its narrow canyons almost daily, or ride my horse across the sagebrush flat with my 3-year-old.
We are not getting any more of these special places, and I, like so many others, have a keen sense of responsibility to preserve their value for my son and future generations. As a business owner and Vice President of my local Chamber of Commerce, I also have a sense of responsibility to protect the public lands that are at the foundation of our economy.
I urge our legislators in Washington, D.C., to join us in championing and defending the Antiquities Act against this new attack, and help safeguard the opportunities afforded by our national monuments.
Kris Waggoner is a local business owner in Escalante, Utah, and Vice President of the Escalante Chamber of Commerce.
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