The Bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante

By MATT KELLY

There are nearly 650 different species of bees in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an area roughly the size of Delaware. By comparison, there are 770 species of bees in all of the eastern United States and eastern Canada.

Just picture this for a moment: this one national monument is home to nearly as many bee species as the entire eastern half of the continent. The bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante make up 15 percent of the total bee fauna in the United States; twenty-two species found here had never been recorded before the year 2000; and this abundant mix of bees lives scattered throughout the monument in small, localized, diverse communities.

When President Bill Clinton created the national monument in 1996, this collection of bees was included in the proclamation; it specifically cited the “numerous types of endemic plants and their pollinators” as a reason to protect the area. Of course, the bees aren’t the only thing that makes this place unique and worth protecting, but they are representative of it.

However, the current protected status of this national monument is no longer guaranteed. Nor is the future of these bees.

Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the twenty seven national monuments that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is reevaluating at the behest of President Donald Trump. According to a memo leaked in September and public statements he has made, Zinke is prepared to significantly reduce the size of this particular monument in order to open the area to greater human use and industry. It’s a reduction that has also been called for by the Utah state legislature, Garfield County Commission and Kanab City Council (in Kane County). But how small do they want the monument to become in order to increase human use? The answer isn’t currently clear. The governor of Utah has suggested that Grand Staircase-Escalante could be carved into two or three smaller monuments. Maps submitted by the state of Utah to the Department of the Interior have proposed shrinking neighboring Bears Ears National Monument by 90 percent. And the Utah legislature has also passed a resolution calling on President Trump to completely rescind the Bears Ears designation.

What will happen to the bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante if the boundaries are redrawn in such significant ways? To consider their fate is to consider the two key questions underlying the fight over our protected areas: What “things” are worth protecting? And exactly how much space is needed to properly care for and manage the things we’ve chosen to protect?