GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT
CRS Report for Congress
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Carol Hardy Vincent
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in
Utah, by proclamation on September 18, 1996. The Monument contains geological,
paleontological, archeological, biological, natural, and historical resources. It is
managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under interim guidelines, pending
approval of a final management plan and environmental impact statement (EIS) by
September 18, 1999. The creation of the Monument was controversial. Issues include
the President’s use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create the Monument; the
Monument’s general effect on land uses; the implications for development of minerals
and school trust lands; and the bearing on the designation of wilderness. This report
discusses these issues and will be updated if their status changes.
On September 18, 1996, President Clinton issued a proclamation creating the Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument in south-central Utah, initially with 1.9 million
acres of federal land (Proc. No. 6920, 61 Fed. Reg. 50,223).1 The Monument contains
geological, paleontological, archeological, biological, natural, and historical resources.
While covering a broad and diverse area, the Monument contains three primary
physiographic regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Escalante
The President created the Monument using the authority contained in the Antiquities
Act of 1906 (16 U.S.C. 431 et seq.). The President described the “spectacular array” of
resources that he believed needed protection, in part to preserve our national heritage.
Although generally supported by environmentalists, the creation of the Monument was
controversial. Among the primary issues are the President’s use of the Antiquities Act
to create the Monument; the effect of the Monument generally on land uses within its
borders; the implications for development of minerals and school trust lands; and the
1This figure was reported initially as 1.7 million acres, but has been recalculated.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
bearing on actions to establish Utah wilderness areas. These issues have been the subject
of congressional oversight and legislation, and law suits against the Administration.
The Antiquities Act of 1906
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to create national monuments
on federal land. The land must contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric
structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest. Regarding size, the President
is to reserve “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the
objects to be protected.” Extensions or establishment of monuments in Wyoming require
the authorization of Congress (16 U.S.C. 431a), and withdrawals in Alaska exceeding
The Antiquities Act was a response to concerns over theft and destruction of
archaeological sites, and was designed to provide an expeditious means to protect federal
lands and resources. President Theodore Roosevelt first used the authority in 1906 to
establish Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as the first national monument. Fourteen of the 17
Presidents since 1906 have proclaimed more than 100 monuments. Many presidentially-
designated monuments now are national parks. For instance, the Grand Canyon initially
was a national monument measuring 0.8 million acres, and is now a national park with
Sizes of monuments vary widely. While more than half initially involved less than
5,000 acres, they ranged from less than 1 acre to nearly 11 million acres. The largest
monument was created as part of President Carter’s 1978 withdrawal of 56 million acres
of land in Alaska, to establish 15 new monuments and enlarge 2 others. Grand Staircase-
Escalante is the largest presidentially-created monument outside Alaska. About 10% of
all federal land--nearly 70 million acres--has been designated using the Antiquities Act.2
Presidential establishment of national monuments sometimes has been controversial,
e.g. the Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming (1943) and especially President
Carter’s Alaskan withdrawal. Some contend that Presidents have used the Act for broad
conservation or recreation purposes, rather than to protect endangered resources.
President Clinton’s use of the Antiquities Act to create Grand Staircase-Escalante raised
several issues. Concern has centered on justification for the types of resources and the
size of the area protected, as well as the level of threat to the area. Other legal and policy
aspects of the proclamation and the Antiquities Act generally have been questioned,
including constitutionality; consistency with other law, especially land withdrawal
provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA); and the
exclusion of Congress, government officials, and the public from the designation process.
Monument Management and Effect on Land Uses
Under the proclamation, the Escalante Monument is being managed by BLM. This
is the first time that BLM is managing a national monument; most are managed by the
2For data on monuments as well as BLM’s Escalante activities generally, see BLM’s monument
website at: http://www.ut.blm.gov/monument.
National Park Service (NPS). BLM may have been chosen because the federal lands
already were under BLM management, or were intended to be both protected and yet
managed for multiple uses. Both the President’s authority to choose a management
agency other than NPS, and the choice of BLM, have been questioned.3 Concern also has
centered on the types and extent of land uses limited or prohibited by the designation.
The proclamation gave BLM until September 18, 1999 (3 years) to issue a final plan
for managing the Monument. In November 1998, BLM released a Draft Management
Plan and Draft EIS outlining five approaches and identifying a preferred alternative. All
five approaches propose a high degree of protection for Monument resources, but they
have different emphases. The preferred alternative emphasizes conservation of the
Monument as an unspoiled area, concentrating recreational use along highway corridors,
restricting use and access in the interior, and promoting research and applied science. The
other options emphasize either continuation of current management, recreation, research,
or the primitive nature of the land. The plan is available for public review and comment
until February 12, 1999 (90 days). BLM expects to circulate a Proposed Management
Plan and a Final EIS in the summer of 1999, with the Final Management Plan and Record
of Decision on the EIS by September 18, 1999.
The presidential proclamation and accompanying statement addressed management
of the Monument, and BLM interim guidelines incorporate and expand on such
presidential direction pending approval of a management plan. President Clinton
indicated that the proclamation does not apply to the state and private lands included in
the Monument’s borders when designated, but rather to the federal lands. The
proclamation did authorize land exchanges to further the protective purposes of the
Monument. Further, under the interim guidelines, activities on non-Monument lands that
damage or are expected to damage Monument lands “must be reported to the responsible
management official for appropriate action.”
In general, existing uses of the land that are not precluded by the proclamation, and
do not conflict with the purposes of the Monument, may continue. Before the
Monument’s designation, some uses of the land had been authorized through mineral
leases (oil, gas, and coal) and mining claims; grazing allotments; rights of way grants;
special and commercial recreation permits; and wood collection permits. Under the
guidelines, existing use authorizations also may be renewed, and new use authorizations
may be approved, if they are in accord with laws and regulations and do not conflict with
the purposes of the Monument. The final management plan is expected to review how
valid existing rights for varied land use activities are determined and whether any
restrictions will be imposed.
Subject to valid existing rights, federal lands and interests in lands within the
Monument were withdrawn from entry, location, selection, sale, leasing, or other
disposition under the public land laws. BLM has interpreted this as barring new mineral
leases, mining claims, and prospecting or exploration activities. Existing withdrawals,
3For legal issues, including the selection of BLM as Monument manager, see CRS Memorandum,
Legal Issues Raised by the Designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,
by Pamela Baldwin, December 13, 1996.
reservations, and appropriations continue, but the Monument is the dominant reservation;
this generally requires that uses be managed to protect Monument values.
The Proclamation states that water rights are not reserved. In preparing the
management plan, the Secretary is to address the necessity of water for the care and
management of the objects within the Monument, and the extent to which further action
is needed under federal or state law to ensure availability of water.
The Proclamation also states that the creation of the Monument would not affect
grazing, which would continue to be governed by other laws and regulations. Most of the
Monument currently is under grazing allotments. The authority of the state of Utah for
fish and wildlife management on federal lands within the Monument also will continue.
Under the interim guidelines, scientific, archaeological, and historical investigations,
including collection of paleontological resources, may continue, except that surface
disturbance must be minimal. Types of recreation, including hiking and camping,
generally are allowed. Protection of wilderness study areas is continued. No additional
areas for off-road vehicles may be designated, and some existing areas may be closed.
Road maintenance may be permitted, but road improvements are to be minimal. Certain
rights of way and ancillary public facilities necessary for established communities
generally will be processed.
Mining and Mineral Development
The Monument contains energy and mineral resources. The Kaiparowits Plateau is
known for its large reserves of low-sulfur coal, although estimates of the amount of coal
and its worth vary. For a 1997 report, the General Accounting Office contacted a variety
of sources to ascertain comprehensive estimates, and found only two--the Utah Geological
Survey for the Monument generally, and the Utah Governor’s Office for the Smoky
Hollow Mine, an extensive coal mining operation proposed by Andalex Resources, Inc.
The Utah Geological Survey valued all energy and mineral resources within the
Monument at between $223 billion and $331 billion. The President’s statement indicates
that designation of the Monument was motivated partly by concern, shared with the
environmental community, that a large coal mining operation (i.e., Smoky Hollow) was
imminent and could damage the resources of the area. The Utah Governor’s Office
estimated that the coal mined at Smoky Hollow would be worth $1.4 billion over 30
years, and would create several hundred jobs in Utah. The Department of the Interior has4
disputed the estimates of the State of Utah.
The establishment of the Monument was viewed by many area residents as federal
intrusion on the state’s economic interests, which would significantly damage the local
and state economies by effectively barring development. Others disputed the expected
economic benefits, including the projected local effects, noting that a principal mining
company is based overseas. Still others viewed the Monument as having a positive
economic impact, primarily from increased tourism to the area.
4For more information on economic issues including mineral development, see GAO Report B-
278137, Federal Land Management: Estimates of Mineral Values and of the Economic Effects
of Developing Minerals in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, October 31, 1997.
A variety of leases and claims existed on its lands when the Monument was created.
Two companies held a number of uncontested leases to mine coal. A number of different
companies and individuals held a total of 89 leases for oil and gas, although 59 were held
by one company. Also, there were dozens of claims for a variety of other minerals, such
as gold and silver. BLM asserted that while new leases and claims were prohibited,
existing coal, oil, and gas leases and mineral claims that were determined to be valid
would remain in effect. However, BLM also noted that development would have to
adhere to a higher standard of environmental review, to assess its compatibility with the
National Monument designation. Many pro-development advocates feared that the new
standard effectively could restrict or prohibit development of resources.
The Proclamation preserved valid existing rights. Holders of leases and claims
predating the Monument have pursued different courses. No coal leases have been
developed, and the Administration and lease-holding companies are voluntarily pursuing
an exchange of those holdings for other lands, resources, or compensation. The President
expressed interest in such exchanges when establishing the Monument. The company
holding the majority of oil and gas leases was authorized by BLM to drill an exploratory
well (but did not do so), but may seek to obtain a permit to drill other sites. Some claim
holders have filed notices with BLM that they will conduct operations on preexisting
mining claims. Limited operations not affecting monument values have begun on some
claims, but validity determinations will be completed only if more development is likely.
School Trust Lands
When established, the Monument contained state lands and mineral interests of the
Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). These lands were
among those given to Utah from the public domain as part of its admission to statehood,
to generate money for Utah schools. Designating the Monument was viewed by many in
the area as limiting Utah’s authority to develop the surface and mineral resources on its
school trust lands, because such development might be incompatible with the purposes
for which the Monument was created. The Utah Geological Survey estimated that
between 876 million and 1.3 billion tons of coal are located on the school trust lands, and
that revenue to the school trust fund would range from $1.4 billion to over $2 billion if
all the recoverable coal were developed. Others disputed the mineral value or
development potential of the state lands. The location of the school trust lands among
federal lands presents management problems both the state and the federal government.
In creating the Monument, President Clinton advocated exchanges of school trust
lands within the Monument for other federal land. The 105th Congress enacted related
legislation (P.L. 105-335). The law transfers to the federal government a total of 362,992
acres of Utah state lands and 90,423 additional acres of mineral rights, including 177,312
acres of land and 23,521 acres of mineral rights within Grand Staircase-Escalante. In
exchange, Utah receives a package including 119,296 acres of federal land and 31,952
additional acres of mineral interests, and $50 million. The exchange is to be completed
by January 9, 1999, and would increase the size of the Monument to 2.1 million acres.
Under the law, the state of Utah and the federal government are required to honor
valid existing rights on lands they acquire, which in some cases may present challenges
to implement. The law reflects a 1998 state-federal land exchange agreement between the
state of Utah and the Department of the Interior. It is the culmination of years of
proposals, and supercedes a related 1993 law (P.L. 103-93).
The 105th Congress enacted separate legislation (P.L. 105-355) to alter the borders
of the Monument to exclude certain parcels of land desired by local communities for
community needs and to add others. This law was crafted to resolve some of the local
controversy over potential restrictions on land development.
The creation of the Monument occurred in the context of a lengthy dispute over the
designation of wilderness in Utah. Environmental groups led an effort for wilderness
protection of 5.7 million acres, while the Utah congressional delegation, among others,
generally supported 1.8 million acres. Units of the National Wilderness Preservation
System must be designated by Congress by law, and designation of the Monument came
on the heels of defeat of a 1.8 million acre wilderness bill in 1996.
The Monument designation affected some of the land previously considered for
wilderness, but generally is not as restrictive as a designated wilderness. Wilderness areas
usually do not have roads and generally prohibit motorized vehicles and other forms of
intrusive human activity to allow for solitude and primitive recreation. A greater variety
of activities may be permitted in monuments, so long as their resources are protected.
Having BLM, rather than the NPS, manage this Monument apparently will result in more
flexible management; the President stated that Monument lands would remain “open for
multiple uses.” The Proclamation’s controversy hinged on its inclusion of areas some
wanted as wilderness and others desired as unrestricted for development.
The federal government owns 33.8 million acres (64%) of land in Utah. There are
0.8 million acres of wilderness (mostly managed by the Forest Service), although none
are within the Monument. There are also 3.2 million acres being managed as wilderness
study areas (WSAs), a result of a BLM inventory some years ago, 0.9 million of which
are within the Monument. WSAs are managed to maintain their suitability for wilderness
designation until legislation is enacted to determine their final status. The creation of the
Monument does not affect these study areas, or preclude Congress from designating
wilderness within the Monument’s borders.
Currently, BLM is reviewing additional land of at least 2.5 million acres in Utah for
potential inclusion in the wilderness system; about one-sixth of this acreage is within the
Monument. This inventory has been controversial, and contested by the state and others
who believe it is biased towards establishing wilderness. It was halted by the courts, then
recently resumed following an appeal (Utah v. Babbitt, 137 F. 3d 1193 (10th Cir. 1998)).
Controversy continues over wilderness in Utah, focusing on the adequacy of the
Monument designation versus a wilderness designation to protect resources; the size and
location of wilderness areas; eligibility of land with certain travel routes for designation
as wilderness; whether to release areas from further wilderness review or study; how
water rights would be treated; the role of local governments in the management of
wilderness; and management direction, including whether to allow certain land uses.