3 Reasons Why Secretary Salazar Should Get Kudos for Protecting the Grand Canyon

As one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World,” the Grand Canyon is probably the most famous natural place in the United States. Thanks to a recent decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Grand Canyon will continue to be as natural as possible.

Yesterday Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced his decision to finalize a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on public lands surrounding this national treasure–a move that has drawn praise from water authorities, sportsmen, wildlife advocates, businesses, families looking to go on vacation, and more.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this thank-you video from local leaders across Arizona, including the Arizona Wildlife Federation.

Secretary Salazar signs the 20-year moratorium on new mining claims around the Grand Canyon
The action protects over one million acres surrounding the site and reflects a ton of public comments in support of protection. New uranium mining next to the Grand Canyon would have likely led to increased water contamination and habitat fragmentation, leading to the decline of wildlife in the region.

At an event at National Geographic to announce the decision, Secretary Salazar said

“Every generation of Americans faces moments when we must choose between the pressures of the now and the protection of the timeless.”

Secretary Salazar and the Obama administration was faced with such a scenario and made a bold decision: to leave the timeless Grand Canyon as it is.

Salazar also said at the event that “conservation is not always popular.”  At the National Wildlife Federation, conservation is always popular, and here are 3 reasons why Secretary Salazar is an early favorite for “Most Popular” in 2012 for his decision to ban new uranium mining around the Grand Canyon.

1. The decision is a win for the drinking water of 25 million Southwest residents

The Colorado River provides drinking water for over 25 million people in the arid southwest United States, including residents of Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  The river also irrigates over 2.5 million acres of farmland.  Increased drought and warmer temperatures from climate change combined with population growth puts the watershed in serious danger: water contamination from uranium ore would turn a serious situation into a crisis.

2.  The decision is a win for wildlife

Uranium mining often results in water contamination, which puts the Colorado River and its tributaries at risk. Wildlife depend on this clean water to drink, and the Colorado River is a unique fishery with world-class trout fishing opportunities.  Mining activities would also result in habitat fragmentation, a major threat to the unique biodiversity of the region.

3.  The decision is a win for jobs

Outdoor recreation and tourism bring in big dollars every year for Arizona.   For example, the Arizona State University recently found that hunting, fishing and wildlife-related recreation in Arizona generates an economic impact of $1.34 billion for the state annually.  In addition, Grand Canyon National Park receives almost 5 million visitors each year and these visitors spent more than $400 million in 2009 alone.  Protecting the area surrounding the Grand Canyon provides a positive economic benefit and supports sustainable long term jobs.

Secretary Salazar is quite fond of quoting President Theodore Roosevelt, and Salazar was definitely heeding TR’s words this time around:

“Leave it as it is.  You cannot improve on it.  The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.  What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.”

-Theodore Roosevelt on the Grand Canyon

We tip our hat to Secretary Salazar for taking action to benefit families, residents of the Southwest, sportsmen and women, and wildlife.