Once there were grizzlies in the Grand Canyon; these disappeared in the 1880’s. Grand Canyon wolves were gone by 1920. The last jaguar there was caught by a fur trapper in 1932.
Wild species that once roamed freely in the Grand Canyon have continued to vanish from these lands, both before and even after the Grand Canyon was established as a National Park in 1919.
Kim Crumbo, Conservation Director of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, has been watching the lands around the Grand Canyon for decades, and he knows them as well as anyone does. After serving two deployments in Vietnam as a Navy Seal he came home, and from 1980 through 1999, he worked as a Grand Canyon Park Ranger. He has been a river guide, worked on inventorying native species, been part of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team, and been active on a multitude of task forces and committees relating to preserving the wild lands and species in and around the Grand Canyon.
Stopping by Kanab, Utah, recently, before setting off on his way to Washington, DC, he sat down to talk about an expansive and essential project that the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council is working on — having a huge expanse of the Kaibab Forest and other public lands officially designated as the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.
“The Spine of the Continent”
The Grand Canyon is an integral part of the Kaibab Forest region – they are one and the same area – and they are part of the wild lands connectivity that is being increasingly seen as the best way to conserve North America’s wild plant and animal species and vital eco-systems.
On a map of North America, starting from the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, then traveling north through the Grand Canyon area, through Utah and on into Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana and then further north into the Canadian Rockies – one can see what has been called “The Spine of the Continent” – and there is a book by that name by Mary Ellen Hannibal. Re-establishing the connectivity of these wild lands is the only way to protect the wild animal and plant species who live there. The forest and other wild areas must be joined together again to go in an uninterrupted corridor all the length of North America from north to south. If the land continues to be chopped up into disconnected segments, which is what is occurring at the moment, it will spell the end of the wild lands of the west.
An uninterrupted corridor will allow the wild animals pathways along which to travel, so they can preserve their traditional migratory paths and so they can move as they need to in search of food and suitable habitat.
This concept of connectivity is essential to wildlife conservation, and there is nothing that is more important to wildlife. Wildlife corridors are now recognized throughout the world as the way to maintain eco-systems and preserve what is left our natural world.
The Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument will be a key component of the wildlife corridor that extends through the center of the west, from north to south.
Seeking national monument designation
Kim Crumbo points out that when, if all goes well, the Kaibab Forest area of northern Arizona becomes the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, it will benefit from this protection in important ways.
The forest of the southwest Ponderosa Pine is one of the most endangered old-growth forests in the southwest. The north Kaibab forest is the remnant of the original old growth forest that covered a vast area, including the Grand Canyon National Park, the Gila Wilderness and Blue Range Wilderness in New Mexico, and the Blue Range Primitive Area in Arizona, which is the last “primitive area” left in the entire U.S. (“Primitive area” is a Forest Service designation.) The North Kaibab will join these magnificent old-growth forests as a protected landscape.
In March 2014, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar announced the momentous decision to withdraw, for twenty years, the area of the Grand Canyon watershed from any new mining projects.
Monument designation for this land would make this twenty-year ban permanent. It was an administrative action that withdrew the Grand Canyon region from being open to new mining, and the ban can be made permanent simply by the use of presidential authority. Significantly, no action by congress wound be needed.
Voluntary retiring of grazing rights
Another major benefit of monument designation would be to allow voluntary grazing retirement. One of the most destructive practices on American public lands is permitting cattle to graze, for extremely minimal fees, on public lands. Through no fault of their own, the cattle destroy native vegetation and, as the native plants disappear, so also do the small mammals and birds that depend on this vegetation. The cattle degrade streams and watersheds. They transform eco-systems for the worse and make them unsustainable. This grazing system helps out cattle ranchers, but it benefits no one else. Of course, many cattle ranchers graze their cattle on their own private land, and do not rely on using public lands.
Many of these public land grazing privileges have been handed down over generations. In a number of cases, the holders of these permits no longer need or wish to graze cattle on the land. In exchange for compensation, they would be more than happy to retire these rights, and this would benefit everyone. Then the public lands could be restored and renewed, bringing a revival of native plants and animals which would flourish in the absence of cattle. Songbirds, wildflowers, native grasses, and trees would thrive once again on the banks of clear, unpolluted streams.
All this would become possible with the designation of the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.
Rounding up support
Kim Crumbo speaks with great enthusiasm about this visionary plan. Among the groups whose support he is gathering are the native peoples like the Kaibab Paiutes, the Shivwits Paiutes, the Havasupai. All this land is traditionally theirs.
He has a strong interest in their participation in this endeavor, explaining, “My great grandmothers were full-blooded Potawatohmi and Navaho.” The tribes have not yet endorsed the monument concept, but they are interested, and the plan is that when the time comes, they will be invited to Washington D.C. to present their case.
The Sierra Club has embraced this project, and Kim Crumbo is working with them as a volunteer Co-Leader for the Permanent Protection Delivery Team for Our Wild America.
Monument designation would not solve every problem for wildlife. Current federal and state laws would still apply.
Passing any further reforms or restrictions regarding hunting, trapping, or any other activities would still need to be approached by seeking changes in current federal or state law.
What the national monument designation would definitely achieve – and why it is important – is that it would define this ancient, primeval forest as a permanent place set aside for wildlife — as a place, in the words of Kim Crumbo, “where species are allowed to establish their own natural patterns of abundance and distribution — where mountain lions, wolves, and jaguars are once again allowed to thrive, as in the past.” He points out that many other key species would benefit too, including the unique Kaibab Squirrel, the California Condor and the Northern goshawk.
Off to Washington, Kim Crumbo, will present a case for this forest land to be designated as the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument. This is one step on what promises be a long road ahead towards permanent recognition for this beautiful forest. We wish him well.
Top photo: Norbert Kenntner / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / Northern Goshawk.
Second photo: Wikimedia Commons. / “This work has been released into the public domain by its author jamidwyer at the wikipedia project.” / A Ponderosa Pine in Idaho.
Third photo: Art G. / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A cougar.
Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This image is a work of the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.” / Aspen trees in fall color on the North Kaibab Ranger District.
Fifth photo: William H. Majoros / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / California Condors preening.
To visit the website of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, click here.
To read the Department of the Interior press release withdrawing land from mining, click here.