If you think back nearly 50 years to 1964, the establishment of Canyonlands National Park itself was as controversial then as its enlargement could become now. There was much complaint about federal “land grabs” and the devastating impact that Canyonlands NP would have on the region’s economy.
Does anyone still make that argument today? Does anyone really think that Canyonlands National Park was a bad idea? Even Gov. Herbert, who wants most federal lands in Utah shifted to state control, says that he would exempt Canyonlands and other national parks/monuments from the transfer – except for Grand Staircase/Escalante, precisely because it is fairly recent.
The conclusion seems obvious: the passage of time allows the benefits of federally protected lands – including the economic ones – to become apparent. If you adopt the perspective of 2064, the same will probably be true of Greater Canyonlands National Monument. By then, most of our energy will come from renewable resources like solar and wind, and we’ll be driving electric or fuel-cell cars. Consequently, natural gas and oil will be a dwindling, nearly obsolete part of our overall economy.
Our descendants won’t believe that we tried to block Greater Canyonlands just so we could pump a little more natural gas out of the lands where the National Monument would have been. Besides, with a population of 500 million by 2063, Americans will be desperate to find undeveloped lands to escape crowded cities and traffic-clogged highways. Permits to hike, bike, or camp in places as beautiful as Canyonlands will be hard to obtain, so our descendants will be grateful for every extra acre of wild country we were able to preserve.
The wise policy, then, would be: drill for fossil fuels where it’s reasonable to do so – say up by I-70 – and leave the really spectacular, still rarely visited country around present-day Canyonlands NP alone as a national monument so our grandkids and their friends can enjoy it.