It is an exciting time to be a conservationist. Of course, there are still plenty of uphill, grassy and rocky battles, but now is a time to be more optimistic than ever. Just this year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act, a new Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument, and the pending expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and no doubt more to come. Recent successes have stirred more and more local and national support for protection of our public lands. Next on the list? Utah.
Last week, fourteen U.S. Senators signed a letter to President Obama calling on him to use the Antiquities Act to protect the Greater Canyonlands in southern Utah. The Senators represent 13 states and more than 100 million Americans. National, regional and local communities have been working to expand Canyonlands National Park ever since it was established in 1964. As noted in the letter:
“Greater Canyonlands … provid(es) habitat for seven threatened and endangered species. Four rivers flow there-the Colorado, the Green, the San Rafael and the Dirty Devil, this watershed serves wildlife as well as 30 million Americans in seven states. It is a lifeline in the increasingly arid West.”
The letter briefly details what is a very long list of historical and economic benefits that would come from protecting the Greater Canyonlands area. The call from the Senators also comes on the heels of a recent letter from the health community, wherein over 200 health professionals from Utah signed a letter to President Obama, similarly calling for a national monument in the region because of the health benefits to all Americans. In addition, just last week, Utah’s state Senate leadership reinvigorated a local campaign for permanent protection of the Greater Canyonlands area—asking Utahans to sign-on in support of protection. In sum, the national and local support for permanent protection of this invaluable region is growing.
The 1.8 million acre area contains over a thousand archeological and hunting sites that date as far back as 12,000 years ago. The rich ecological and historical diversity of the area is what creates a sustainable flow of visitors year after year.
“The outdoor recreation economy is a sustainable one, worth more than $5 billion annually in Utah and more than $646 billion nationwide. American public lands that receive protection help drive economic growth.”
Communities and their representatives understand the immense benefits of lands preservation in southern Utah. A national monument designation would preserve threatened species habitat, ensure clean drinking water from the four-river watershed to the surrounding areas, and provide locals and visitors with pristine and protected views, and unparalleled recreation opportunities.
Nothing could be better than a national monument designation to commemorate this region and the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park this September. As President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “the joy of living is his who has the heart to demand it,” and the public certainly demands the conservation of Greater Canyonlands.
-- by Lauren Van Vliet, Our Wild America Lands Protection Campaign intern