This month we celebrate Grand Canyon National Park’s centennial. For 100 years, America’s National Park Service has protected this celebrated landmark while welcoming visitors from all over the world.
During its 100-year history, the Grand Canyon has faced some inappropriate and frankly hairbrained schemes that would have degraded the beauty and experience of the landscape forever.
One of the first serious threats to the park came in the early 1960s, when two hydroelectric dams were proposed in both Marble Canyon and Lower Granite Gorge. With a brilliant media and policy effort, visionary conservationists - including Sierra Club and my organization, National Parks Conservation Association - ultimately convinced the Johnson administration to cancel the project.
A more recent threat to the park was stopped last year. Navajo communities were outspoken in their opposition to a proposed resort hotel and tramway in the interest of protecting their land and way of life, leading to the developer withdrawing their plans. Compounding threats to sacred cultural sites, the proposal would have negatively impacted night skies, the park soundscape, and endangered fish populations in the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers.
As long as the Grand Canyon has been protected as a national park site, National Parks Conservation Association has worked to defend Grand Canyon and all of our national parks from an ever-evolving number of threats. Whether it’s fighting other inappropriate developments near the park, preventing polluters from obscuring views and diminishing air quality, or protecting endangered fish and condors – the Grand Canyon’s future depends on the vigilance and continued pressure of park advocates.
A timeless benefit of a place like the Grand Canyon is the life-changing experience it can have for visitors, transforming memories into lifelong advocacy of public lands and the places we hold so dear as a country. Park advocates have an opportunity now, to protect Grand Canyon, forever. A temporary ban on new uranium mines on public lands surrounding the park needs to be made permanent. In 2012, the Obama administration issued a temporary mining moratorium around the Grand Canyon, which saw wide bipartisan support. On the 100th anniversary of the park’s creation, a bill was recently introduced in Congress by Arizona’s park champions Representatives Raul Grijalva, Tom O’Halleran, Ruben Gallego, and a dozen more from across the country. This proposed legislation takes the important next step of making significant protections permanent.
The legislation was announced to the public at a recent event at the South Rim, where tribal leaders discussed how their homelands have been poisoned by abandoned uranium mines. While uranium mining is now banned on all tribal lands in northern Arizona, the impacts remain. Especially powerful was the testimony by Havasupai leaders, whose entire water supply is threatened by mining upstream from their internationally famous turquois creek and waterfalls.
Awarding permanent protections for the Grand Canyon is not just the right thing to do for this national treasure; it makes smart economic sense, too. The benefits of tourism and dangers of mining outweigh the small profits to be made by private companies. The Grand Canyon hosts more than six million visitors a year, supports 10,000 jobs, and contributed over $900 million in 2017 alone to the regional economy.
National Parks Conservation Association is among the diverse and bipartisan group of park supporters wholeheartedly supporting this legislation. Uranium mining will impact and rob underground water from the park’s vulnerable springs and side creeks.
We now urge Congress to make permanent this prudent plan to protect both a national treasure and vital tribal water source.
Let’s keep the canyon grand, for all of us, forever.