Greater Canyonlands National Monument
Learn more about the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
Greater Canyonlands remains one of the last untouched frontiers of the West, one of the largest areas in the lower 48 states wild enough to offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the President of the United States to embrace a true environmental legacy and protect this beloved landscape as a national monument.
The boundaries of the Greater Canyonlands region include nearly 1.8 million acres, an astonishing landscape of high plateaus; the essential sky-island watershed of the Abajo Mountains; stunning geologic formations; 12,000-year-old sites left by mammoth hunters; an incomparable archaeological record of Ancestral Puebloan life; and unmatched natural beauty. Preserving Greater Canyonlands makes sense now, as it did to Secretaries of the Interior Harold Ickes and Stewart Udall when each first imagined preserving millions of acres of the area’s redrock country decades ago.
Although remote, Greater Canyonlands forms the heart of a watershed upon which 40 million Americans and 15% of our nation’s crops rely.
Today, Greater Canyonlands faces unprecedented threats. Energy development can have huge impacts, but exploding off-road vehicle (ORV) use poses problems no less serious (Gregory, 2008). National monument designation would not exclude ORV use but instead would direct riders away from the most fragile areas, protecting both diverse recreation uses and an irreplaceable ecosystem. Proclaiming a Greater Canyonlands National Monument would knit together the interlocking land management designations in a complementary system to protect the most threatened resources (rare plants, Puebloan ruins, and rock art, especially); permit native plants and wildlife to migrate freely in response to climate and environmental changes; ameliorate conflicts among ORV users and other recreationists; create a vital buffer for Canyonlands National Park; and facilitate a more comprehensive management approach based on watersheds and water conservation.
Greater Canyonlands is a coherent—but startlingly vulnerable—expanse filled with scientific, cultural, and recreational riches, one of the last intact large landscapes in southern Utah’s redrock wilderness; a landscape worthy of decision makers’ attention and visionary action.
A new publication from noted Utah archeologist Jerry Spangler makes the case for protecting Greater Canyonlands.
Greater Canyonlands is comprised of a matrix of public lands. First is Canyonlands National Park, a crucial preserve established in 1964 that encloses the core of canyons and mesas at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Manti-La Sal National Forest add layers of protection to significant reaches of this canyon country. Unfortunately, illogical hard-to-manage straight-line boundaries define each of these preserves and create conflict with surrounding Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands, reflecting compromises forged among diverse stakeholders: government, conservationists, and resource developers over the last seventy years.
Greater Canyonlands contains “a largely untapped library of 12,000 years of human history” — including some of the best evidence of how human beings have adapted to climate change in the past.
It is hard to imagine a more likely candidate for national monument protection than Greater Canyonlands – the magnificent 1.8 million acres of public land surrounding Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. It remains one of the last great untouched frontiers of the American West and one of the largest roadless areas in the lower 48 states. It also forms the heart of one of the West’s most critical watersheds, upon which 40 million Americans and 15% of our nation’s agriculture rely. And its unparalleled recreational opportunities – hiking, rafting, rock climbing, biking – are world-renowned.
But there is another reason why Greater Canyonlands is so deserving of protection under the Antiquities Act: the area holds some of the most scientifically important cultural resources to be found anywhere in North America. Ensconced in ancient alcoves or perched astonishingly on the ledges of sheer canyon walls, human history here is as layered as the sandstone topography that enfolds it.
The idea of protecting Greater Canyonlands has been around for 80 years.
As unlikely as it may seem when first gazing upon this arid and rugged landscape, human culture not only survived but thrived among the high plateaus, serpentine canyons, and impassable river gorges of Greater Canyonlands. This wild landscape stands today as a largely untapped and remarkably well-preserved library of almost 12,000 years of human history: from Ice Age mammoth hunters, to ancient farmers who cultivated corn in the arid desert, to infamous outlaws like Butch Cassidy who found refuge here. It is a vast outdoor museum that could one day unlock the mystery of how humans adapted to a changing climate in the American West.
The area’s aridity and isolation have helped preserve remnants of this fascinating history largely intact and undisturbed: spears from Paleoindian hunters; basketry, tools, ceremonial objects and clay figurines from Archaic hunter-gatherers; and the elaborately designed pottery, standing stone structures, cliff dwellings, and brilliantly complex rock art of the Basketmaker, Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont peoples. To venture into this landscape – as anyone willing to tread lightly and respectfully can do – is to walk through time with wonder and awe, marveling at the secrets of our collective past.
Greater Canyonlands is under rapidly growing pressure from extractive industries and climate change.
Unfortunately, without action, this treasure trove of scientific and historical knowledge will be lost over time. Poorly regulated off-road vehicle use, proposed oil and gas drilling, tar sands mining, and uranium and potash development all threaten to transform the region and open the door to looters and vandals.
With each site that is lost through neglect or malice, another page is ripped from our history.
If we don’t act now to protect this extraordinary landscape, we may never fully understand the mystery and lessons of the ancient ones or have the chance to follow in their footsteps with our grandchildren.
Join the national movement to protect Greater Canyonlands.