As President Trump prepares to travel to Utah Monday where he reportedly will announce significant reductions to two of its national monuments, 146 scientists, researchers, and academic organizations from 19 states have released a letter to the administration citing the importance of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to scientific research and discovery.
Calling the more than two decades-old monument “an important living laboratory,” the scientists state that its current boundaries are “consistent with scientific resources specifically identified in the 1996 presidential proclamation in which 1.7 million acres of Federal land was set aside” and later expanded.
News reports say the president will reduce the monument by nearly half.
“I am gravely concerned that the forthcoming decision by the Trump administration will compromise the integrity of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and will set a negative precedent for decisions involving other national monuments,” said Arnold Miller, President of the Paleontological Society and Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Geology at the University of Cincinnati. “Grand Staircase-Escalante contains a trove of scientifically-valuable fossils and strata from boundary to boundary, and the excising of portions of this national monument for mining or other commercial activities will tragically compromise its integrity.”
Arguing that the monument’s geological, paleontological, archeological, cultural, and biological resources “are best studied at a large spatial scale,” the scientists’ letter notes that Grand Staircase-Escalante “hosts one of the highest concentrations of dinosaur fossils in the world,” that only 6 percent has been surveyed, and that “the potential for future discovery is tremendous.”
Mike Scott, PhD, research riparian ecologist in Fort Collins, CO said, “The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument contains within its boundaries a uniquely rich biological landscape, which has contributed leading-edge insights into rangeland health and management. Fragmenting the monument will threaten existing ecological resources and stifle ecological inquiry.”
“The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument contains a remarkable record of unique vertebrates that spans more than 20 million years. This record includes terrestrial vertebrates from intervals of time from which no specimens have been recovered anywhere else in the world,” said Jeff Eaton, a Grand Staircase researcher in Escalante, UT, and member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP).
Joe Sertich, Grand Staircase researcher at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and SVP member said, “New discoveries, like those being made regularly in the rocks preserved within Grand Staircase-Escalante, have the potential to alter our understanding of the processes of evolution and the responses of life to a changing planet.”
The scientists are concerned with more than preserving the fossils within Grand Staircase. “The Monument is biologically diverse and contains a significant percentage of Utah’s rare and endemic plant species and is the richest bee landscape reported to date,” their letter states. They also point to its cultural landscapes that span some 14,000 years. “What is special is the wholeness of the archeological record on the monument and our ability to study it in its natural setting,” the letter reads.
“Grand Staircase is a unique and irreplaceable resource for research on the paleontology of the Late Cretaceous,” said F. Robin O’Keefe, SVP member and Grand Staircase researcher at Marshall University, Huntington, WV. “We have only scratched the surface; loss of the monument would be a scientific tragedy.”