By Sharon St Joan
On October 12, 2015, Raul Grijalva (D. – Arizona) introduced into Congress the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act. The intent of this bill is to protect and restore 1.7 million acres which lie to the north and south of the Grand Canyon, including the North Kaibab Ranger District, of which the Grand Canyon is an integral part, and the Tusayan Ranger District.
Revered by many as the world’s most strikingly beautiful natural formation, the Grand Canyon, along with all the canyonlands of the four corners region, draws visitors from all over the world. Yet the forests to the north and south of the Grand Canyon are not yet federally protected from the possible ravages of uranium mining, which poses a serious threat to the trees and wildlife that live on the threshold of the Grand Canyon and to the water of the Colorado River which flows through the canyon.
This proposed legislation would preserve many sacred Native American cultural sites, as well as the beautiful natural lands that surround the Grand Canyon. Cougars, bears, coyotes, elk, mule deer, California condors, wild turkeys, and bobcats all make their home here. The Kaibab squirrel is found nowhere else on earth except in the ponderosa pines of the Kaibab forest and Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim. Ponderosa pine nuts, needles, and associated “truffles” are its sole food.
This area is an essential part of the wildlife corridor known as the Western Wildway (it has been called “the spine of North America”), which runs north from Mexico through the Rocky Mountains and on through the Canadian Rockies. It is the intent of many conservation groups, including the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, to achieve adequate protection for all these lands, so that wildlife will once again be able to move freely along this corridor. Free movement among wild lands that are linked together is needed for the continued survival and well-being of wildlife.
A major mule deer migration runs through this area. The seasonal migration goes from Arizona Buckskin Mountain north to the Paunsaugunt Plateau at Bryce Canyon, in Utah.
Many years have been spent in preparation for the introduction of this bill. Kim Crumbo, Conservation Director of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, and others spent much of the past several years in Washington D.C. communicating with legislators. He commented, “This monument is an important step in preserving the wild lands of the American West. It will benefit the economy, and it has tribal support. The creation of this monument will be a long-term investment in the economy – to keep the natural environment.”
Mining for uranium is a short-term and short-sighted enterprise that could devastate the environment around the Grand Canyon. There are known uranium reserves on the Kaibab Plateau, and over 2,000 mining claims have been filed adjacent to the Grand Canyon. In 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar suspended a million acres for twenty years from the mining permitting process. This moratorium will soon end, and there is concern that uranium mining, with all its attendant risks to the environment and health hazards could resume. The bill before Congress would prohibit any new uranium mining claims in the area of the Greater Grand Canyon area. It would not prohibit recreational activities, hunting, or cattle grazing. There do not appear to be fossil fuel deposits in the Grand Canyon area.
The Kaibab Forest is a place of great wonder and magic, one of the last of the old growth ponderosa pine forests. It is also, in its natural, untouched state, of great economic benefit.
The majestic wild lands of the American West draw millions of tourists every year and billions of dollars to western states. In their unspoiled state, they are a major source of revenue for these states.
As well as the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, other wilderness and conservation organizations who have been at work over a number of years in support of this bill include the Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Importantly, the bill recognizes that the “Grand Canyon-associated Tribes” – the Havasupai Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Las Vegas Tribe of Paiute, Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, and the Zuni Tribe – have a “longstanding historical, cultural, and religious connection to the Greater Grand Canyon ecosystem and watershed and should play an integral role, through collaboration and consultation, in the planning and ongoing management of the monument.”
After all, when Europeans first arrived on this continent, they found wild lands with a great natural abundance of birds, wild animals, plants, and eco-systems – alive and well, undamaged and undestroyed. Native Americans took good care of the lands on this continent for thousands of years.
Today, in the twenty-first century, many of our wild lands are in tatters and under constant threat from mismanagement, over-hunting, development, and the toxic, destructive effects of mining for minerals and the fossil fuel industry. These public lands can be protected from further harm by having them declared National Monuments.
Kim Crumbo says the bill was introduced into congress by Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva in an effort “to get the U.S. Congress to do the right thing.”
“If the opportunity is not taken up, it will still be possible for Obama to bring this about by executive order before he leaves office.”
To watch the Sierra Club’s short video, Protect the Greater Grand Canyon’s Heritage, click here.
Top photo: Roger Bolsius / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Panorama of the Grand Canyon form the South Rim.
Second photo: Azhikerdude/ Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Photo of a Kaibab Squirrel taken near the Grand Canyon North Rim lodge.
Third photo: U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region, Kaibab National Forest. / 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 (Populus tremuloides) in fall color on the North Kaibab Ranger District.
How you can help
Write to President Obama, asking him to designate the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. Click here.