By Noel Poe | Special to the Tribune | June 22, 2021
Throughout my 37-plus years with the National Park Service, I have had the privilege to work in national parks across the country. While each park is different, one of the common threads linking them together is the dedication of local communities and organizations who love and support their national parks and other public lands.
During my first superintendency at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, I worked with a newly established friends group and quickly realized the benefits these groups can bring to a park. So, when I retired from the NPS in September, 2007, I moved back west and settled in Southern Utah to work with an incredible group of people dedicated to protecting one of our nation’s most stunning and meaningful national monuments; Grand Staircase-Escalante.
President Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Act to designate Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on September 18, 1996. This act — established by Congress and signed by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 — was the first nationwide conservation law in our country’s history and authorizes the president to set aside for protection of “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.”
Since its passage in 1906, 17 presidents of both parties have used the Antiquities Act to designate over 150 national monuments from coast to coast. This month, we have a chance to celebrate the 115th anniversary of the Antiquities Act. Thank you, President Roosevelt for your vision on conservation.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is home to thousands of fossils and archeological artifacts, soaring arches, piercing rock formations, desert landscapes, pinyon-juniper native forests, 660 species of bees and wide variety of wildlife and vegetation. And it is a sacred site to several tribal nations.
The friends group I have long admired and have worked with — both as president of the board of directors and as executive director — is the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. This organization has been a partner to the Bureau of Land Management, assisting the agency with enduring conservation, restoration and maintenance, plus helping to provide education, awareness and recreation opportunities for the communities around this special place and for the domestic and international visitors who arrive from around the world to enjoy the national monument.
The federal land making up Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument certainly benefited from the use of the Antiquities Act. But unfortunately, the past few years have been exceedingly difficult for the site, as the boundary of the national monument and critical protections were rolled back under the Trump administration.
To ensure that this site continues to be protected and accessible to all, we must restore protections for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and ensure the site’s boundaries are reinstated.
There are many other special places, particularly in the West, that deserve the protection a national monument designation would provide. I am thankful for President Joe Biden’s America the Beautiful plan, which established a bold conservation goal to protect 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. And one of the ways we can reach this goal is to not only protect or expand our current national monuments, but to create new national monuments from new places or existing federal lands. These sites are critical to preserving our natural and cultural heritage for current and future generations.
Today, Biden can carry on the legacy of the past and use the Antiquities Act to not only protect our sacred places but to meet his critical conservation goal. I urge the president to use his authority to ensure that Grand Staircase-Escalante remains protected and that other iconic landscapes are set aside to ensure that habitats, access to the great outdoors, and our nation’s history and heritage are protected today, and into the future.
Noel Poe, Kanab, worked with the National Park Service for 37 years and served as the park superintendent in four different national park areas for over 18 years.