In the latest gesture of public support for the permanent protection of the Grand Canyon watershed, a coalition of environmental groups and tribal leaders announced today that they've delivered petitions containing more than 550,000 signatures to President Barack Obama demanding he create a 1.7-million-acre national monument around Grand Canyon National Park.
The signatures come from all over the nation and from people with a wide range of interests, according to Celia Barotz, vice mayor of Flagstaff, who says the diversity points to ubiquitous backing for the monument. "I think that the number of signatures supports the argument that the values at stake are so important that people want their voices to be heard," she says.
With a legislative attempt to create the monument led by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Tucson) stalled in Congress, supporters have turned their attention to plan B: persuading the president to invoke the Antiquities Act and use his executive authority to preserve the lands.
Designating the so-called Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument would permanently protect much of the watershed to the north and south of the park from uranium mining and other extractive industries, while safeguarding recreational and hunting access and preserving one of the most sacred spots for tribes in the American Southwest. The site encompasses the Kaibab National Forest on the north and south rims of the canyon, as well as a swath to the northwest of the forest that is rich in uranium.
Public-opinion polls indicate that the monument has overwhelming support in Arizona, and if today's petition delivery is any indication, it's a sentiment matched throughout the country.
"The Grand Canyon is a culturally significant area which sustains life for many tribal people and cultures, [and] it is encouraging to see the outpouring of support from across all walks of life for the [monument]," Shan Lewis, president of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and vice chairman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, said in a written statement about today's announcement.
Katie Davis, who's on the staff of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that has helped collect signatures, agrees. "This is significant because protecting the Grand Canyon isn't just an Arizona issue, it's an issue of national significance. We find it encouraging that everyone is coming forward to support the tribes — it's part of a bigger vision of protecting American heritage," Davis says.
"I don't think that half a million people is something that can just be ignored in D.C. when it comes to conservation and environmental protection," she adds.
Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Arizona chapter, says the groups have been collecting and sending in signatures for months, but a milestone such as this seemed a good time to announce their progress.
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In Bahr's estimation, the petitions send a strong message to Washington: "Look, we've got strong and growing support for this monument, and the American public and Arizonans would really like the president to take action to protect this area."
Congressman Grijalva evidently concurs. "[C]onserving Native American history and culture, protecting the environment and guaranteeing public access to these lands in perpetuity are each important goals, [and] creating the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument meets each of those goals and more," Grijalva said in a statement today.
"I firmly believe this administration hears the voice of the people, and I look forward to working with President Obama to protect this land once and for all," he added.
You can read more about the petition here.