Socio-Cultural Conflict As Related To The Environment In Southern Utah


This paper concerns the “environmental conflict” in Escalante, a small rural town in southern Utah. I address the historical and cultural background of the residents in order to frame the debate between rural residents and urban environmentalists regarding land use and management. The purpose is to better understand the issues that make up the conflict, which have a long history, but were recently inflamed by the designation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996. With the designation, the local population felt that they lost their land and livelihoods because it restructured where and how they could graze, log and mine on government land that they have always worked and taken care of. It felt to them as if they had been stewards over the land for generations and now the government took it all back as if they were unfit to care for it as they always had. Environmentalists, on the other hand, hailed the designation as a major accomplishment for wilderness lands, succeeding in blocking further mining and drilling on what they view as a fragile desert. As a result of these two views the conflict continues to be framed as between rural residents and urban environmentalists. It is my premise that the shared value in southern Utah is the land itself and a desire to provide stewardship for it, but that disagreement over how to manage the land is a divisive issue leading to an intractable conflict. Although citizens are at a stalemate currently, it is my belief that with some outside assistance, residents could begin to dialogue through their history of frustration and anger to eventually come to some community based solutions for the economic and environmental problems in their region to the benefit of all parties.


Peace and Conflict Studies | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration

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