Daniel Brown is the vice president of the Sierra Club at Stony Brook.

The Grand Canyon is a geological marvel, the most famous in America. It is a location that holds a special place in the hearts of all who have gazed upon the majesty and vastness of it. Theodore Roosevelt, champion of the national park system, recognized the Grand Canyon for its beauty and set it aside as a national monument in 1908.

His advice should be heeded now more than ever: “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see,” he said at the Grand Canyon’s dedication. 

Nature deserves our respect, and it is our duty to ensure it remains free from harm.

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One hundred and eight years later, four uranium mines operate in the watershed that feeds directly into the national park. These mines are continuously polluting the waters of this fragile ecosystem, and development of more mines in the area is a very real possibility.

Fortunately, there are many who wish to see the unique environment surrounding the Grand Canyon protected. Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced a bill recently that would establish a new national monument to protect over 1.7 million acres surrounding the Canyon. According to a statement from Grijalva’s office, it “permanently protects the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims; protects tribal sacred cultural sites; promotes a more collaborative regional approach between tribal nations and federal land managers; protects commercial and recreational hunting; preserves grazing and water rights; and conserves the Grand
Canyon watershed.”

In a recent poll, it was reported that 80 percent of Arizonians want this bill passed. They understand the importance of preserving the Grand Canyon’s rich heritage of “biological, cultural, recreational, geological, educational, and scientific values.” Yet despite this, there is fierce opposition to the plan. A large not-for-profit group, funded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has been campaigning heavily in the area. Other notable opponents of the plan include Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

This bill is not only vital to the ecosystem of the Grand Canyon, but also to human lives as well. Millions of Americans get their drinking water from the Colorado River and many of the tribes living in the area depend on the waters of the Grand Canyon as their sole source of water. Leaders from the Havasupai, Navajo and Hopi tribal communities and the not-for-profit Grand Canyon Trust have come together to give their support to this bill. Former senator and board member of the Trust, Mark Udall, declared that if the bill does not pass, President Obama should use the powers given to him under the Antiquities Act to place the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument under federal protection.

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In addition, the plan will protect endangered species, such as the Mexican Spotted Owl and the California Condor, and would even save “one of the largest southwestern old-growth ponderosa pine forests; House Rock Valley, a remote grassland ecosystem; the Kaibab-Pausaguant Wildlife Corridor, which facilitates migration and survival of large mammals like mule deer and pronghorn; and the life-sustaining waters of Kanab Creek and Grand Canyon’s South Rim springs.”

The land surrounding the Grand Canyon holds special significance to all who visit and live there. It should be our priority to protect it, or it will fade into a memory.

This is a world dominated by humans, but not everything needs to be shaped to our design. Some places deserve to stay wild and untouched, places where people can go visit and experience, but ultimately leave intact for those who follow behind them.

This is a changing world, but not all of it has to.

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: JOHN VETTERLI

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