If not for the Antiquities Act the Grand Canyon might look very different

Jessica, left, with sisters at the Grand Canyon. Courtesy Jessica Goad.

It’s hard to imagine a West without the Grand Canyon’s grandeur. When you really think about what it takes to protect the beauty of a place, the laws themselves like the Antiquities Act (which lately has come under attack) become much more meaningful.

This is what I have been thinking about after my family’s Thanksgiving excursion to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which featured snow and 14° temperatures on the rim and yellow cottonwoods and crisp fall nights below. I learned on my trip that the Canyon might very well not have been protected if it were not for the Antiquities Act, a seminal piece of legislation that remains relevant and fundamental even today.

Grand Canyon, Arizona. Courtesy Jessica Goad.The Grand Canyon has long been a revered and exquisite place, even though it has withstood onslaughts from grazing, timber, and mining industries even to this day. The earliest remnants of human activity date to nearly 12,000 years ago, and many native cultures still consider the place sacred.

John Wesley Powell, the first European-American to complete the river trip, famously opined that “the wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.” And heavy tourism as early as 1901 provided many opportunistic businessman the ability to capitalize on the growing American preservation movement.

All of these—and more—relationships with the Grand Canyon demonstrate that from early on, Americans were interested in caring for the Canyon and the Colorado River.

But would you believe that the first efforts to protect this magnificent place failed miserably? Senator Benjamin Harrison (later to be the President) introduced bills in 1892, 1893, and 1896 to protect the canyon as a “public park,” but they died in Congress every time.

Cottonwoods in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Courtesy Jessica Goad.It wasn’t until 1908 that President Theodore Roosevelt used the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect the Canyon as the Grand Canyon National Monument. Outcry and protest arose from opponents such as mining, timber, and railroad interests. Luckily, the Antiquities Act provided permanent protection, and a few years later the Grand Canyon was designated a National Park under the newly-formed National Park Service.

I realized on my trip that there are lessons to be learned from the history of the Grand Canyon about our efforts today to protect outstanding places. Most importantly, the Antiquities Act is an extremely important and effective tool, and we must strongly defend the president’s right to use it to defend areas that would otherwise go unprotected.

Alas, this right is currently under major attacks from those that would like nothing more than to mine and pillage our public lands—see statements from many elected officials here, such as a representative from Utah’s claim that “the federal government wants to steal millions of acres and put them into wilderness without much discussion or input.”

There are still hundreds of places across our country’s lands and waters that deserve to be protected. And some are in such dire need of preservation that we just can’t wait for Congress, as the legislative process can take years, even decades.

It is for this reason that the Antiquities Act exists, to help America stay at the forefront of defending areas of scientific interest and value.

In fact, the Act has been used by 15 of the last 18 presidents, including President George W. Bush. It is only with the foresight of President Roosevelt that the Grand Canyon was protected for my family and me to enjoy over our holiday, and I hope that someday my kids will be able to take a vacation to Otero Mesa or another protected place, and think the same thing about President Obama.

photos:
Jessica, left, with sisters at the Grand Canyon. Courtesy Jessica Goad.
Grand Canyon, Arizona. Courtesy Jessica Goad.
Cottonwoods in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Courtesy Jessica Goad.

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