When the Grand Canyon was named a National Park in 1919, the 44,000 guests who visited there that first year more than likely believed that the surrounding wild lands and waters would get the protection they need to ensure that generations would be able to hike, camp, raft, discover and explore this magnificent area. It is not likely those first visitors imagined this region would still be facing destructive threats more than 90 years later. The wild and remote greater Grand Canyon region is under threat though, from mining, road creation and other development that would ruin one of America’s most spectacular landscapes.
Efforts have been underway to limit some of the threats in the Grand Canyon watershed. Recently Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a decision that would ban new mining claims for the next 20 years on lands near waterways that feed the Colorado River. We have already seen some of the damage from mining along tributaries and along the Colorado River itself.
Now a small handful of elected officials and mining corporations are pursuing legislation and litigation to reverse the Administration’s efforts to protect the Grand Canyon. This could lead to industrialized development of some of our wildest lands and poisoning the water of millions of Americans downstream who rely on the health of the land for their own well-being.
Conservation Should Be A Regional Priority
The Wilderness Society and our partners recognize that we must look at the Grand Canyon within the context of a broader landscape and network of waterways and wildlife corridors. This includes remarkable places like the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, House Rock Valley and the North Kaibab National Forest that together, with the park and other public lands, are a critical part of the larger Colorado Plateau.
These places all are connected by water, wildlife and the impacts of climate change. The network of creeks, springs and other tributaries all flow into the Colorado River, which has helped to shape and supply the Grand Canyon.
In addition, some of the last remaining old-growth ponderosa pine forests in the American southwest are currently threatened by logging in the Kaibab National Forest, adjacent to the park. There are also decisions to be made about the use of motorized vehicles on some of our public lands. While industrial uses of our public lands can be appropriate in the right places, the Greater Grand Canyon region is too precious and valuable for the type of harmful development that is being proposed for the area.
Jobs Are At Stake Too
This type of development also will have a profound impact on the local community that relies on visitor access. People travel from across the world to experience nature where the air is clean to breathe, water runs clear and their wild landscape experience is undisturbed by the constant buzz of motors. While the Grand Canyon now draws more than 4 million visitors annually and keeps local motels, campgrounds, restaurants and gas stations in business, tourism results in jobs for nearly 10,000 people in the region. Efforts to block this protection could kill those same jobs- the lifeblood of the local communities.
The Battle Is Not Over—Continued Protection Efforts Are Needed
Throughout history, the Grand Canyon has been challenged by those who do not recognize the international importance of this spectacular place. Those threats will not go away without permanent protection of the broader region from Congress or the president.
Fortunately, the Canyon has people on its side—people who will continue to speak on its behalf; people whose livelihoods and jobs depend on access and protection of the region as a whole; people who know that without a healthy landscape, we cannot have healthy communities. Together, we can help make it so this same discussion does not need to be had in another 90 years.