Grand Canyon Under Siege

Arizona Republic's Steve Benson captures the battle over Grand Canyon

Arizona congressman Jeff Flake is leading an extraordinary assault on the Grand Canyon. Mining and air tour industries applauded Flake’s recent amendments to Interior’s appropriation bill that would strip the Secretary Salazar’s authority to ban new uranium claims within Grand Canyon’s watersheds and prevent the National Park Service from implementing its plan to reduce air tour noise over the Canyon. Due to strong opposition by Arizona congressmen Grijalva, Pastor, and other courageous leaders, both amendments were dropped from the current budget package.

We are asking Grand Canyon Trust members and allies to remain vigilant and vocal, knowing that extreme politics will continue to threaten the Canyon when congress returns this fall. See these recent news stories: LA Times editorial on GOP vs. Mother Nature, Fight Over Mining Near Grand Canyon, Other Riders Will Return After Recess

Ban on New Uranium Claims

On June 20, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced his decision to extend the ban on new uranium mining claims within a few miles of Grand Canyon National Park, which provides a six-month window of protection while the Department of the Interior finishes its assessment of a more lengthy moratorium. Secretary Salazar also announced that his “preferred alternative” is the full one-million acre withdrawal area for 20 years, providing maximum protection that is legally allowed under his authority. His announcement drew praise from leaders and editorial writers from across the nation: Grand Canyon Trust and editors applaud Salazar decision on Grand Canyon uranium mining

Thanks to Grand Canyon Trust members for contributing to the nearly 100,000 comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed withdrawal. We support the Secretary’s selection of the preferred alternative but are encouraging him to do everything in his power to complete the Final EIS and Record of Decision as quickly as possible. The longer the agency takes in finalizing its decision, the greater the risk that mining-friendly members of congress will steal its authority to protect Grand Canyon from thousands of new mining claims.

Air Tour Noise 

Noise from helicoptors flying below rim disturbs natural quiet

Congressman Flake’s amendment to the House Interior appropriations bill would block funds from being used to allow the National Park Service (NPS) to complete its long-awaited, noise-reduction plan, required under the 1987 National Parks Overflights Act, or from implementing its preferred alternative identified in that plan. The Overflights Act called for the restoration of “natural quiet” at the park. Yet, twenty-four years later, barely half of the park is free from the whop of helicopters and drone of low-flying airplanes. Please see: Arizona politicians threaten Grand Canyon quiet

Following a prolonged period of negotiations involving all of the stakeholders, NPS and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are finally drawing this process to a close. In February, the agencies released the oft delayed noise reduction plan for public review and comment.

The plan is the result of considerable investment and years of research conducted by the two agencies. Tens of thousands of citizens have voiced their opinions on the matter. None of the four alternatives would ban air tours or put the air tour industry out of business. In fact, the NPS’s preferred alternative would actually allow for 8,000 more air tours per year than are currently being flown, while at the same time reducing overall noise in the park.

Congress shouldn’t put the brakes on this important public process that is so close to resolution. Derailing it would mean wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and placing a higher priority on enriching business interests than on protecting natural values for which Grand Canyon was established as a national park.

The amendment was never discussed during Interior Appropriation Committee hearings, nor was it ever considered by the appropriate authorizing committees. It was introduced in July but has been dropped, for the moment, from current legislation. However, it will most assuredly re-appear in future legislative agenda.

Roger Clark
Maverick helicoptor photo by Dennis Brownridge

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