grand staircase-escalante national monument photos

This October, with the help of our friends at Eco-Flight and Conservation Science Partners, WRA’s Utah-based General Counsel Joro Walker flew over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to shine a light on how much is at risk if a court doesn’t reverse President Trump’s unprecedented decision to shrink the monument by a stunning 900,000 acres. From the air, she was able to see how the decision fragments the Monument, harming wildlife habitat and putting the amazing landscape at risk.

The early season storm that had dumped a foot of snow on the yellow aspen glades of Boulder Mountain and filled the slot canyons of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with cold, muddy water was now parked over Colorado, stranding our pilot at the Aspen airport. We were scheduled to take off at daybreak, but the evening before, we did not know if we would be able to make our flight over the vast areas of the Monument that President Trump had excluded from protection and potentially opened to mining, oil and gas production, road building and other damaging activities. This flight would help WRA gain more support for efforts to defend the original two-decade-old boundaries of Grand Staircase by establishing that President Trump acted unlawfully in his 2017 Proclamation by trying to chop the Monument into three pieces and open almost half of its acres to development.

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We woke to a bright dawn – the air scrubbed clean of smoke from the summer’s wildfires – and a text from our EcoFlight pilot: he would soon be at the Escalante airport. EcoFlight pilots like Bruce Gordon volunteer their airplanes and time to provide the unique aerial perspective from which to view threats to the West’s wild places. Other passengers on the flight were Colter Hoyt, a local guide and passionate and knowledgeable advocate for the Monument, a reporter and photographer for a major national newspaper, and Meredith McClure of Conservation Science Partners (CSP).

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WRA worked with CSP, highly regarded research and mapping specialists, to showcase the organization’s report on the ecological “objects” Grand Staircase was designed to protect. The CSP maps and analysis show over and over again that some of the richest and most important concentrations of values like diverse biological communities, water resources and unique and endemic plant and animal species – including 650 species of bees; 82 species of native mammals such as bats (12 species), bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions, badger, and the Hopi chipmunks; as well as cutthroat trout, and bald eagles – are spread throughout the original Monument boundaries. As a result, President Trump’s Proclamation seeks to eliminate monument status for lands containing invaluable objects; fragments the once-protected land; and maroons these sensitive and vital objects outside the boundaries of the Monument, exposing them to damage and destruction while bringing harm from potential development closer to the objects that still lie within the remaining segmented Monument boundaries.

From the plane, we had a one-of-a-kind and outstanding perspective. Following the flight plan mapped out by Meredith, we flew over jaw-dropping vistas, long shadows still stretching out from sheer cliffs, pooling in deep canyons and highlighting knobby mesas. From this vantage point, we could see the almost 1 million acres of biologically rich areas that would be ripped from the Monument unless we are successful in our defense. We circled around Colt Mesa, where a Canadian company has said publicly that it has acquired claims to mine cobalt. We followed the Escalante Canyon system to Glen Canyon National Recreation area, while Meredith explained that part of what makes the original Monument so valuable is that it ties Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon, creating a haven for plants and animals that need diverse and connected habitats to flourish.

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As we banked toward Bryce, we saw the staircase for which the Monument is named – the series of geological layers of increasing height – and understood even more profoundly that President Trump’s Proclamation would tear some of these formations, and so the heart, out of Grand Staircase.

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We took away from our flight great pictures, a new appreciation for the need to safeguard the Monument, and even greater resolve to ensure that all the Monument’s national treasures remain under the protective umbrella of the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.



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