Aren’t Arizona’s National Monuments worth protecting?

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona. Courtesy Conservation System Alliance.

People around the world are familiar with the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon and its artistic carver, the Colorado River. Of much lesser fame is the area directly north of the canyon within the watershed of the river known as the Arizona Strip, which is federal public land managed mostly by the Bureau of Land Management.

I know that many people think that lands managed by the BLM are typically less desirable for recreation and experiencing nature, and are better left to exploitation of the natural resources. I too once held a similar viewpoint before getting the opportunity to appreciate some of these incredible places first hand.

Like me, many others, from Ancestral Puebloans to John Wesley Powell to rafters and hikers, have stood at Lee’s Ferry, the official beginning of the Grand Canyon, admiring the sharp wall of rock that forms the Paria Plateau with its display of apricot, salmon, and ruby cliffs. They have experienced the spectacular views of the canyon and excellent opportunities to experience the isolation and wildness of the high desert in the area adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park. And they, too, have come to recognize the irreplaceable values of these places.

As of nine years ago, these lands were designated as the Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monuments, both managed by the BLM. Regardless of which agency manages them, these incredible lands are worthy of the utmost protection.

I, like many others, am disappointed to see decisions in the BLM’s recent land management plans for these monuments that do not afford these lands the protection they are entitled to as national monuments.

The new plans call for more than 1,700 newly designated roads across the Arizona Strip, ignoring the inevitable impacts of wildlife habitat fragmentation and increased off-roading that comes hand in hand with such roads.

We know that increased vehicle use leads to ecosystem degradation, and often to vandalism of cultural artifacts as well. In this case, it would also lead to encroachment on lands proposed for wilderness designation by the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. 

Simply put, the BLM plans violate the very proclamation that created these monuments.  Which leads to this question: If these outstanding places were deemed special enough to earn national monument designation, shouldn't we be treating them as such? 

The Wilderness Society has been urging the BLM to do the right thing, but now we are turning to the courts as a last resort. I look forward to seeing these deficiencies resolved in our recent lawsuit and being able to work with the BLM to fulfill its mission of preserving these monuments for the natural and cultural values they were created to protect.

photo: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona. Courtesy Conservation System Alliance.