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June 14, 2013

From Spectacular to Unthinkable

You're going to have to trust me on this: Dead Horse Point State Park is a lot more scenic than it sounds. It's located just northeast of Canyonlands National Park, and it has the beautiful, dramatic high-desert canyon scenery that this part of the West is famous for. You can't spend time in this landscape and not come away both inspired and rejuvenated. When my family and I camped there this week, we couldn't get over how beautiful it was -- like stepping into a Sierra Club calendar photograph.

One bit of scenery we didn't count on, though, were the flares from nearby oil and gas operations only hundreds of yards away from the park. Unfortunately, that juxtaposition is happening every day as mining and drilling companies rush to extract profits from these wild lands before they can be protected.

You probably haven't been to Dead Horse Point State Park, but you may have been lucky enough to visit the Canyonlands or Arches national parks. Stunning as they are, they account for only a fraction of this unique landscape, which covers 1.4 million acres of public lands. The proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument would keep these lands -- which belong to all of us -- from being destroyed by more mining and drilling.

One person who's been working on the ground -- and in the air -- on behalf of the Greater Canyonlands is Bruce Gordon, the president and founder of EcoFlight -- a nonprofit conservation organization that educates and advocates for the protection of remaining wild lands and wildlife habitat by taking people up in small aircraft to let them see for themselves what's happening.

Bruce took my daughter Olivia and me on a flyover in the Greater Canyonlands that I don't think either of us will ever forget. The bright blue potash mining evaporation ponds only a couple of miles east of Dead Horse Point (and right next to the Colorado River) were both weird and scary. The tar sands mining was just as scary.

That's right -- eastern Utah has the largest tar-sands deposits in the United States. Energy companies already hold leases for tar sands strip-mining on over 90,000 acres in the area. Some mining has begun on private land, and there's a proposal underway to expand it to public lands within the borders of the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument.

Tar-sands mining is a terrible idea anywhere for all kinds of reasons, but the idea of doing it right next door to some of our greatest national parks, in one of the most spectacular wilderness landscapes of North America, is beyond unacceptable -- like slashing the Mona Lisa with a box cutter.

Greater Canyonlands National Monument would preserve a landscape that has thousands of years of human history, from Native Americans to the Wild Bunch. It would protect one of the greatest remaining wildernesses in the continental U.S. so that it can be explored and enjoyed by countless future generations of hikers, cyclists, climbers, campers, mountain bikers, rafters, kayakers, sportsmen, and even people who just really love looking at beautiful scenery or a gazing at a night sky filled with stars.

The Greater Canyonlands are part of our American heritage, and all of us can do something to help ensure that they aren't destroyed. Start by sending a message to President Obama asking him to permanently protect the Greater Canyonlands by naming it as a national monument.

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Michael Brune

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