President Barack Obama has declined to designate the Grand Canyon as a national monument, dashing the hopes of tribes and environmental advocates who wanted to see uranium mining and other industrial development banned for perpetuity.
“I can only express my profound disappointment,” U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva said in a statement on January 6, announcing that the designation would not be made. “The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most iconic and popular natural places, not just for its beauty but also for its importance to tribal culture and history. Instead of building on former Secretary Salazar’s work, the Interior and Agriculture departments are apparently willing to leave the future of the Grand Canyon and the health of Arizona tribes up to Donald Trump. I am not.”
The measure was supported by 82 percent of voters across the U.S. and 80 percent of voters in Arizona, “a rare instance of an environmental initiative transcending political philosophy and party identification,” his statement noted.
Obama designated Bears Ears and Gold Butte as national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act on December 28, raising hopes that the Grand Canyon would be next. Though no formal announcement has yet been posted by the White House, Grijalva said it was not going to happen. A spokesperson for his office told Indian Country Media Network that Grijalva's information came from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
Tribes that had lobbied for national monument status said it was a loss given the contamination and damage already wrought by existing uranium mining, not to mention abandoned mines.
“We are disappointed that the Grand Canyon was not included in the designation by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in the Grijalva statement. “We were hopeful to have both designations, but we are thankful for the Bears Ears designation. The Grand Canyon is an international monument that is visited by millions of people each year. The next administration should seriously consider designating the Grand Canyon under the Antiquities Act as a national monument to protect the canyon from mining and abuse in the name of economic development. This landscape should not be destroyed but saved for future generations to admire the beauty of the southwest. We need to make sure that it is protected as a national monument.”
In case that does not happen, Grijalva said he was reintroducing the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act, which he first put forth in 2015. But advocates have been pushing for such a designation since 2012, when then–Interior Secretary Ken Salazar imposed a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims on more than 1 million acres of public land to the north and south of the Grand Canyon, Grijalva noted. The ban later held up in court.
Failing to further protect the Grand Canyon means that “Over 3,000 uranium mining claims around Grand Canyon are now one step closer to being freed up for development,” said Grand Canyon Trust Conservation Director Ethan Aumack in a statement from the organization.
The decision also drew fire from several tribal leaders, including the Havasupai, whose territory lies at the bottom of the canyon.
"We are very disappointed to hear that the Obama administration has failed to protect the crown jewel of the United States – the Grand Canyon,” said Havasupai Councilwoman Carletta Tilousi in the congressional statement. “The Havasupai people are on the verge of human extinction due to massive uranium development on the rims of the Grand Canyon. As the original people of this country, we are the most targeted by international mining companies who come into our territories and contaminate our waters and homes. We are very disappointed in the Obama administration for failing to protect the Grand Canyon.”