With the looming reduction to our precious national monuments under the direction of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump, the clock is ticking to see the features that will no longer be included in the future borders. Many of the iconic sandstone structures and slot canyons are no longer included. While some will remain in Wilderness Study Areas, which prohibits development, the lack of extra federal protection means they too are now only one Congressional move away from having zero protection at all, paving the way for destructive and dangerous resource extraction operations such as uranium mines.
One of the most recognizable areas to be taken out of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are the popular Toadstools. These unusual sandstone formations are not very hard to access, which makes them a favorite for visitors in the southern region of the monument.
Located northeast of the Toadstools, this dramatic set of tall and thin spires is another iconic loss to the monument. They are also not very hard to access in terms of the hike, and they are a favorite for photographers trying to catch sunrise and sunset hitting the tops of these giant stone towers.
Another one of the most popular destinations in Grand Staircase that will also not be included in the new boundaries is the area north of Hole in the Rock Road. The Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons are perhaps the most well known formations in this area. Accessed by the dirt road named by early explorers, the Department of the Interior is now considering paving it to make the access for large mining trucks and machinery much easier. There are many amazing places along the north side of the road that will no longer remain protected, including Coyote Gulch, Neon Canyon and Zebra and Tunnel slot canyons. This is a great loss considering that the relatively small area holds so many of the monument's best arches and slot canyons.
Located in one of the least developed parts of the U.S., this culturally rich and strange landscape is home to some of the highest concentrations of Native American historical sites in our country. Recently protected by President Obama with the creation of Bears Ears National Monument, these 2 areas have already been swiftly removed from the new boundaries. Some of the major sites that will no longer be included are Moon House, Owl Canyon, Fish Canyon and the Valley of the Gods.
This very remote and rugged region does not have as many iconic and dramatic natural features as some other parts of the shrunken Bears Ears monument. What it lacks in outright beauty it makes up for in scientific contributions. Considered one of the great treasures for paleontologists who research the late Cretaceous Period, literally countless fossilized remains can be found here thanks to the unique geology and arid climate.
While reduction to this monument in Nevada has not been announced yet, it has been included on the list of places that Secretary Zinke has indicated should be slashed. This is another area considered by many to be nothing more than a desert wasteland, but further inspection reveals a place rich in cultural sites, geological history and needed habitat for the critically endangered desert tortoise.
The fourth monument on the list for recommended reductions straddles the borders between Oregon and California. The monument was created in 2000 by President Clinton and expanded in 2017 by President Obama. This area is particularly rich in Native American artifacts; you can see dwellings and gathering sites left by the Modoc, Shasta and Klamath tribes. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the monument's current borders, while rock climbers and hikers flock to the area each year to experience the beauty and fun.
There are many ways you can help support the preservation of these areas, from political action to simply taking the family to see them. With petitions, increased revenue from visitors and awareness campaigns, we can change the course that this administration has charted for America's public lands. If there are no visitors, it is hard to imagine there will be much pressure on government officials to change their minds.