SUWA: Attacks on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Utah’s public lands in House FY24 Appropriations Bill

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee passed the FY2024 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Bill, which now heads to the full House of Representatives. The Bill – filled with anti-environmental policy measures – contains two provisions that would dramatically and negatively impact Utah’s public lands. 

  • Section 471 would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from managing Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument pursuant to Proclamation 10286, which reestablished the original 1996 monument boundaries
  • Section 478 would prohibit the BLM from using any funds to implement the proposed “Public Lands Rule.”

“If signed into law, the current House Appropriations bill would be deeply harmful to Utah’s public lands. The bill would undermine management within the reestablished Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument boundaries by restricting funding and effectively pretending that the Trump monument reduction is still in place,” said SUWA DC Director Travis Hammill.

“The bill would also eviscerate the BLM’s proposed Public Lands Rule, which seeks to level the playing field between conservation and extraction to ensure that our shared lands and waters will be managed for wildlife, natural and cultural resources, and the enjoyment of current and future generations. Legislators should focus on funding our federal land management agencies, not enacting wildly unpopular policy mandates via purse strings.” 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument 
Proclamation 10286, issued by President Biden on Oct. 8, 2021, restored Grand Staircase-Escalante’s full boundaries as originally established in 1996 by President Clinton. Under section 471 of the House Appropropriation bill, the BLM would be required to manage the 1.9 million-acre Monument pursuant to the management plan that was finalized after President Trump unlawfully reduced the Monument by roughly 900,000 acres (almost 50% of its originally designated size). 

Grand Staircase-Escalante, the first national monument managed by the BLM, was designated to conserve the area’s cultural, ecological, and scientific values, and it is now world-renowned for its paleontological discoveries, stunning scenery, and outstanding intact and diverse natural ecosystems. The Trump-era management plan is inconsistent with the Biden proclamation and, if implemented, would result in inconsistent management and significant damage to the Monument. 

Section 471 would also prohibit the BLM from spending funds to complete a new monument management plan for the restored monument, a process the agency has already dedicated significant time and resources to complete. Even if the BLM were able to complete the new plan, this legislation would require that the agency actually manage the monument pursuant to the Trump-era plan. 

Public Lands Rule
In March 2023, the BLM published its proposed Public Lands Rule, intended “to improve the resilience of public lands in the face of a changing climate; conserve important wildlife habitat and intact landscapes; plan for development; and better recognize unique cultural and natural resources on public lands.” Section 478 of the House Appropriations bill would prohibit the BLM from using any funds to implement the Public Lands Rule or any substantially similar rule, essentially rendering it meaningless and damaging the BLM’s future rulemaking efforts. 

There is overwhelming support for BLM’s effort. Of the more than 150,000 public comments submitted, “92 percent of the comments encouraged the Interior Department to adopt the Public Lands Rule as written or strengthen its conservation measures. 4.5 percent of comments encouraged the department to withdraw or significantly weaken the rule.” As the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board astutely noted, “The only thing wrong with a proposed rule that would have the U.S. Bureau of Land Management officially consider conservation as one of the “multiple uses” intended for the huge swaths of public land it oversees is that it wasn’t written 47 years ago.”