Jeff C/Sierra Club
One of the more sublime locations on the planet is the 1.4 million acre Greater Canyonlands in southern Utah, a place that inspires fierce protective feelings amongst those who don't want gas, oil, tar sands, or uranium companies to set up shop there.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and outdoor related businesses would like President Obama to invoke the Antiquities Act of 1906 and, with one Teddy Roosevelt-like stroke of the pen, proclaim Greater Canyonlands a national monument This group includes Aron Ralston of 127 Hours fame, the adventurer who amputated his own arm after being trapped for six days in one of those canyons. He writes:
In doing so, [President Obama] will save the region from imminent degradation and allow others the chance to hoot, yell, and holler -- feeling most alive -- as they create stories among the sensual orange canyons, frog-lined pools, and split-crack spires of the red-rock.
A more measured approach is being proposed by Utah Democrats who gathered on the steps of the capitol in Salt Lake City yesterday. They have drafted a joint resolution calling for the protection of Greater Canyonlands, but rather than calling for the Antiquities Act, they want lots of public input, plus facts and statistics.
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, their resolution "seems tailored to avoid the kind of political blowback that arose with President Bill Clinton’s 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument."
And boy, was there blowback. President Clinton's decision, made at a ceremony at the rim of the Grand Canyon, enraged mining interests and conservatives and led Utah's Republican Senator Orin Hatch to call it the “mother of all land grabs.”
Acknowledging the deep-red conservatism of Utah, and hoping to head off a similar firestorm for President Obama over Canyonlands, resolution sponsor Senator Jim Dabakis said:
"We hope to bring a calm, rational, productive and civil discussion full of facts and figures about what should be protected as the premier recreational lands in the United States. It’s a great treasure we have been given stewardship over. We are open to what kind protections should be built."
A calm, rational discussion over unspoiled Western lands? Here's hoping.