Proposal Sparks Monumental Debate At The Grand Canyon

A proposed national monument adjoining Grand Canyon National Park has generated a political divide almost as wide as the canyon itself.

The Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument would offer additional protections for 1.7 million acres of federal and tribal in northern Arizona.

Environmentalists and many tribal representatives support the effort, which they say would better protect cultural sites and curb uranium mining in the Colorado River watershed, through which Southern Nevada’s water flows.

Business and some outdoor enthusiasts contend the proposal is a monument to federal overreach that would close off the land to legitimate uses and is an affront to Arizona’s history of dealing with land use issues at the state level.

A Democratic lawmaker from Arizona has proposed legislation that creates the monument and President Barack Obama has the authority to designate the area a monument on his own.

The area is about 150 miles east of Las Vegas.

Map courtesy of Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

Support comes from

"It's vital to the life blood of Las Vegas' tourism economy," said Christian Gerlach, a Las Vegas-based representative of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club supports the designation.

Gerlach said a significant number of people come to Southern Nevada to see the Grand Canyon. He said adding more protected land would add to the economic value the national park already has and protect water from uranium mining. 

"Ultimately, the threats from uranium mining could pose a huge determent to the tourism itself," he said. "Protecting the land, protects the $14.9 billion outdoor recreation economy that Nevada currently has."

Glenn Hamer is the president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the designation. 

He said the amount of land covered by the designation would be massive. 

"This would actually double the size of land under monument protection on the federal side and 1.7 million acres is larger than the size of Delaware," he said.

However, Hamer and his group's biggest problem is the idea that President Obama could make the designation without everyone impacted by it having a say.

"We feel very confident that if we have a process that is driven by Arizona communities, including the environmental community, we'll come out with a much better process than a president unilaterally designating something this size and scope," he said. 

While the dispute seems to be between some Arizona businesses and conservation groups in the Southwest, the deputy director for the Center for Western Priorities Greg Zimmerman believes there is more going on.

Zimmerman told KNPR's State of Nevada that the Koch Brothers are involved. The Koch Brothers are energy billionaires, who are known for spending a lot of money on conservative causes.  

"What I found is there is well funded attempt to undermine efforts to permanently protect lands around the Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining," Zimmerman said, "And this effort is being underwritten by dark money group backed by the Koch Brothers."

Zimmerman and Gerlach believe the mining and energy industries are working to stop the designation so they have access to land they can drill and extract minerals from. 

For his part, Hamer said his group does not get money from the Koch Brothers but from Arizona businesses. 

"It's just nonsense," he said, "Let's talk about the merits of this. Let's talk about why there's 100 or so groups that are very diverse, political leaders that oppose this designation," he said. 

Gerlach said the land is already held in "trust for the American people."

"This designation will not take away any sort of private holdings," he said, "What it does is it specifically better manages and better stewards the land that is currently held in trust for every single man, woman and child in this nation."




Christian Gerlach, Las Vegas-based representative of the Sierra Club; Glenn Hamer, president, Arizona Chamber of Commerce; Greg Zimmerman, deputy director, Center for Western Priorities

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