SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart has reintroduced legislation to create a sixth national park in a piece of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Stewart first proposed the Escalante Canyons National Park in 2017 on the heels of President Donald Trump downsizing the 1.9 million-acre monument in southern Utah. Park maps are still being finalized by local communities, but the boundaries would fall within the Escalante Canyons area of the Grand Staircase-Escalante, according to the Utah Republican.
"Whether you want guaranteed access or long-term conservation, the Escalante Canyons National Park meets your goals," Stewart said in a statement. "By providing for a strong local voice in park management, the Escalante Canyons Park and Preserve is pioneering management that works collaboratively with those who live and work in this area."
Stewart said the proposal invites people to experience the beauty of Utah, its paleontology and ancient history, and the local culture.
Only Congress can set aside land for a national park, while a president has power under the Antiquities Act to designate a national monument.
"It's a bad idea and unwise public land policy, and smells like a pre-election stunt," said Kael Weston, Stewart's Democratic challenger in Utah's 2nd Congressional District.
Weston said Grand Staircase-Escalante should be returned to its original boundaries and believes it will be if Democrat Joe Biden is elected president.
"I've sat in two Garfield County Commission meetings — let's just say these iconic lands need to be managed and protected by federal agencies, not local politicians. I know these public lands really well because I still camp in them," he said.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance intends to work to defeat Stewart's legislation.
If the bill is anything like the one Stewart previously ran, it would make permanent the "unlawful dismantling" of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, said Stephen Bloch, SUWA legal director.
"That means the lands Trump cut out from the monument would be open to more fossil fuel and hard rock mineral development as well as clear the way for more off-highway vehicles running rampant across this remarkable landscape. The Grand Staircase-Escalante is too spectacular a place for this fate," he said.
Bloch said the answer isn't to create a smaller national park from the "cutting room floor of Trump's unlawful work," but to fully restore the Grand Staircase-Escalante to its "original glory."
The bill would conserve the area while allowing access for hunting, fishing, trapping and grazing. It also would define three separate and distinct national designations — Grand Staircase National Monument, Escalante Canyons National Park and Kaiparowits National Monument.
Trump's 2017 proclamation broke the national monument into three smaller sections — the 211,983-acre Grand Staircase, the 551,117-acre Kaiparowits and the 243,241-acre Escalante Canyons.
A management council comprised of local officials would draft and oversee a management plan for the new monuments and park.
The legislation would also transfer Hole in the Rock Road to the state in recognition the its historical significance as a pioneer trail for the early settlers sent to the area by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Paying for a new national park when the nation's parks, including the five in Utah, are hundreds of millions of dollars behind in upkeep could be a significant hurdle to passing the bill.