ST. GEORGE – For well over a century the complicated and often uneasy relationships between conservationists, miners, ranchers, and the U.S. Forest service over the Grand Canyon watershed continue. With the park expansion in 1975, the placement of new borders pushed economic development further from the canyon, but seemingly not far enough. Now with the proposed National Monument designation status, conservationists will try to eliminate their opponents from the region forever.
The Wilderness Society and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, both headquartered in Flagstaff, Ariz., and the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Ariz., in an effort to preserve the watershed, recently submitted a Proposal for National Monument Designation to the Bureau of Land Management.
Bureau of Land Management
St. George News asked Rachel Tueller, Public Affairs Officer for the BLM Arizona Strip District, about the status of this proposal.
“BLM did not solicit or advocate for it,” said Tueller, “and Washington hasn’t given us any direction; typically Monuments are designated through the Antiquities Act which authorizes designation by executive order.”
But, the implementation of land management approaches may come in various ways, Tueller said, many of which fall under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Proposals submitted to the NEPA processes are examined under a formal and complex procedure which provides for public input and hearings, environmental impact studies and other specified criteria before determination on a proposal is made. A NEPA process has not been initiated for the Proposal for National Monument Designation discussed in this article.
The Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument proposal covers about 1.7 million acres, 7,000 of which are held privately. The land also contains four federal endangered species, 3,000 archeological sites, 259,000 acres of Ponderosa Pine forest.
While the proposed designation allows for continued public access, sightseeing, hiking, wildlife observation, hunting, and fishing, it also features multiple restrictions:
• It would lock up hundreds of thousands of acres in public lands, without Congressional approval or public input.
• There would be restrictions on recreational activities primarily, ATV’s and off road vehicles.
• It would end access to energy production and other job-creating economic activities.
• It would protect archeological sites
• It would reduce road density.
• It would block pipelines and transmission corridors.
• It would prevent new uranium mines.
• It would halt the grazing of cattle.
• It would protect old growth forest.
The conservationists say that ecological threats to the proposed Monument lands include logging of ancient trees, high density of primitive roads, loss of landscape connectivity for wildlife, inappropriate grazing, and uranium mining.
The U.S. Forest Service
Patrick Lair, Public Affairs Officer for the USFS in Fredonia, Ariz., which is in charge of Kaibab National Forest, said the forest service proposes to “mechanically thin Ponderosa Pine stands in the Kaibab National Forest, but there will be no logging per se.”
The USFS in Fredonia has been working on its proposal for 12 years now, but the conservationists keep appealing and litigating it in court.
The “Center for Biological Diversity wants a caps on tree diameter of 16 inches. There is a whole science on how the forest should be. We (the forest service) feel that the area is just too dense to agree to the cap,” Lair said, adding, “When the forest is really dense, as it is now, fire will get up into the crowns and will spread rapidly. Also, if the trees are over crowned, nothing will grow in the under story. The forest keeps growing at a tremendous rate, this is one of the things that we try to explain to people; the forest doesn’t sit in a stagnant state. The fire danger has been growing every year.”
Lair said that the forest service does not profit financially from this operation.
“No, what we do is trade goods for services,” Lair said. “See, you’re trying to get these contractors to take down thousands of small trees that are not profitable so what we do is trade access to a few larger trees to offset the costs. The U.S. Forest Service will pick each and every tree that will be cut.”
The Goshawk (Accipiter Gentilis)
Richard Reynolds, Ph.D., has been studying the goshawk in the Kaibab National Forest for the past 22 years.
“Their success depends on the health of the entire ecosystem,” Reynolds said.
In other words, sustaining the birds means sustaining the squirrels they prey on, the seeds the squirrels subsist on, the forest structure that optimizes production of these seeds, and so on.
“We have such a presence of goshawk researchers here and we know where all of the nests and foraging areas are.
“Everything that we do is for the health of the forest and everything that lives in the forest. Unfortunately (what) the conservationists have is a stalemate and we have been at a boiling point for quite some time now.
“Here at the U.S. Forest Service we feel that we already have mechanisms in place to protect all of the values of the forest. All of the archaeological sites have good protection and our grazing plan is good. We just finished dealing with the uranium mining and are now currently working on a travel management plan for all of the ATV activity the forest has been receiving over the last few years – all of the issues that have been stated in the proposal, the U.S. Forest Service has been keeping an eye on for long time now.”
Reynolds said he hoped that the research he’s done would resolve this controversy once and for all. And the numbers do indicate that the Kaibab goshawk population is secure.
The original boundaries of the Park deliberately excluded valuable grazing areas in order to allow such economic use to continue.
“We take very good care of the land and adhere to all of the permit requirements,” said Darlene Larsen from Sunshine Cattle Co. “If the proposal goes through it will put us out of business as well as many other ranchers. There is not any other place to graze their cattle locally.”
There are currently 90-plus ranchers holding permits to graze cattle on the Arizona Strip land.
During the April 16 senatorial debate at Dixie State College of Utah this year, between Republican candidates, incumbent Hatch, former state Rep. Chris Herrod and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, Hatch said:
“The federal government is crippling us. Utah Colorado and Wyoming have an estimated 800 billion to 1.6 trillion barrels of oil and we unable to get the federal permits to go get it.
“We could mine for uranium 10 miles away from the Grand Canyon if we get our lands back from the federal government.”
After the debate, Hatch told St. George News, “I have spoken with the Obama Administration and told them that this proposal is an outrage to Utah.”
All the debaters said that the federal government must get out of the way and let the states manage their own natural resources.
Utah’s Washington County Commissioner, Allan Gardner, said, “The proposal is an effort to permanently close all uranium mining. This will cost the states and counties of Utah and Arizona millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.”
“If we can put a man on the moon,” Utah state senate hopeful Dale Ash said to St. George News, “we can mine for uranium without making a mess of things.”
To view the entire proposal, click here.
Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.