Wednesday, July 06, 2016
Don’t just save the Grand Canyon. Save the wider region, too.
We think we’ve saved the Grand Canyon. We established a national park that is supposed to remain “forever unimpaired,” as the Park Service’s enabling legislation put it. But the Grand Canyon is so deeply enmeshed in a spider web of connections to its watershed that a lot of work needs to be done to keep it vital and wild.
The stone ramparts above the abyss look timeless, but they tumble toward the sea under the inescapable power of gravity and erosion. Ponderosa pine forests seem to go on forever across northern Arizona, but their existence depends on the interplay of changing climate, water, insects and fire.
Developers chip away doggedly at the edges of the park, planning massive commercial development at the gateway community of Tusayan and a gondola that will reach deep into the canyon on Navajo land at the remote confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. We continue to log rare old-growth ponderosa pine forest on the Kaibab Plateau for no good reason.
...Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, has one answer to the question of how we can ensure the Grand Canyon’s future. In October 2015, he introduced the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument bill. It has the support of 11 tribes, led by the Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo and Hopi, Native peoples who consider the Grand Canyon a sacred place and their home. The bill honors the Native peoples’ “longstanding historical, cultural and religious connection to the Greater Grand Canyon” and acknowledges the continuity of Native stewardship, “resulting in an accumulated body of traditional ecological knowledge.” Such deference to contemporary Native American wisdom in legislative language is unheard of.
If our gridlocked Congress refuses to act on Grijalva’s bill, President Obama can choose to do so, thanks to the powers of the Antiquities Act. The president’s administration acknowledged imminent dangers to the Canyon in 2012, when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered a 20-year ban on thousands of new uranium claims on the public lands surrounding Grand Canyon. Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez calls uranium mines “a devastation to our people. The monument would make Salazar’s moratorium permanent.