In March 2009, one of Barack Obama’s first acts as President of the United States was to sign a 2 million acre omnibus lands bill into law. At the signing ceremony, the president shared a memory about a life-changing family tour of America’s national parks. Obama highlighted a visit to America’s iconic Grand Canyon, along with a history lesson about President Teddy Roosevelt’s lands legacy.
That Obama family trip not only illuminated the signing ceremony, but may have provided a clue to the president’s lands legacy. Furthermore, Obama was wise to reference a president whose vision has been the model for protecting our wild places. After all, it was President Roosevelt who signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, granting the President of the United States the authority to protect public lands for the public good.
In 2010, the Administration announced the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, a blueprint for 21st century public lands management. This initiative calls on diverse stakeholders to support the Administration’s efforts to “conserve and restore large landscapes.” As a key example of collaboration, America’s Great Outdoors highlights the work of the National Park Service in their management of 84 million acres, including one of the nation’s “crown jewels,” the Grand Canyon.
This year, in October 2011, the Obama Administration again cited the great outdoors and the Grand Canyon when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a ban on new hard rock mineral leasing and mining (primarily for uranium) in a million acres adjacent to the park. The mining ban will protect important wildlife habitat and water quality that complement the natural systems of Grand Canyon National Park.
The nation and the president’s affection for the Grand Canyon region as national treasure is clear. President Obama has an opportunity to burnish his legacy around the canyon by designating areas around the North Kaibab Plateau in Arizona as a new Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument. Doing so would provide vital protection for important sources of groundwater, protect habitat for mule deer, preserve 22 sensitive species (many of which occur nowhere else in the world), promote and protect local tourism economies and jobs, and more.
Though the Grand Canyon is often associated with Teddy Roosevelt, protecting the region from intensive uranium mining and designating a new monument for the Grand Canyon Watershed would allow President Obama to stand alongside Roosevelt as a true guardian of the Grand Canyon.
Guest column by Athan Manuel, Director of the Sierra Club's Lands Protection Program.