No one could say it’s been a great month for the republic. Political discourse has deteriorated from divisive to downright sordid. Could anyone else use a reminder that the real America is so much better than this? Here’s one: support for the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument.
It would be easy to take the Grand Canyon for granted, but we don’t — and we haven’t since President Theodore Roosevelt first granted it protection as a national monument in 1908. Later, of course, it became one of our most important national parks, as well as a United Nations World Heritage site. The world has only one Grand Canyon.
But although Grand Canyon National Park ensures that the magnificent canyon itself is protected, the public lands north and south of it are not. They’re threatened by everything from unsafe uranium mining to devastating logging practices. That’s why outdoor recreation and conservation groups, many local and national elected leaders, and more than 20 Southwestern tribal nations have all come out in support of a Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument.
Here’s who else supports it: a decisive majority of American voters. We’re not talking about a majority of environmental voters, Democratic voters, Republican voters, or any other qualifier you might want to add.All voters. A poll released last month that was jointly conducted by two polling firms (one right-leaning and one left-leaning) showed strong support across the board regardless of political party or geographical location. Overall, 93 percent of voters agreed the Grand Canyon is a national treasure for all Americans, and 82 percent supported the establishment of the new national monument. Even after listening to statements that opposed the proposed monument, voters still supported it by a greater than two-to-one margin.
Finally, something we can all agree on. All except Congress, of course. Representative Raúl Grijalva has sponsored a bill that would permanently protect the area’s water, endangered wildlife, and Native American cultural sites, and it’s gone nowhere. Since protecting our public lands is anathema to the Republican-controlled Congress, the job will likely fall to President Obama, who has already protected more public lands and waters than any other president in history. And, in fact, more than half a million people (including more than 150,000 Sierra Club supporters), have already asked the president to designate the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument.
Will he? Long after today’s headlines are a tawdry historical footnote, the full protection of the Grand Canyon would stand as a proud legacy not just for President Obama but also for the American people. A better question might be “Why on earth wouldn’t he?”