The Monument

Canyonlands Overlook. © Grant Collier
Canyonlands Overlook. © Grant Collier

Worthy of Protection

It is hard to imagine a likelier candidate for national monument protection than Greater Canyonlands — the 1.8 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service land surrounding Canyonlands National Park.

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Greater Canyonlands remains one of the last untouched frontiers of the West and one of the largest roadless areas in the lower 48 states. Not a single power line traverses this wild place; few human constructions mar natural horizons. This is a cliff, canyon, and valley, of spire and castle, of lush and improbable hanging gardens, of echoing alcoves and amphitheaters. It is a source of quiet renewal for backpackers, pristine darkness for stargazers, untold wonder for river runners, and economic vitality for southern Utah.

It is also a place of paradox. Though dry and remote, it is the heart of one of the West’s most critical watersheds.  Through Greater Canyonlands, the Green, Dirty Devil, and San Rafael Rivers wind south to meet Colorado — the river upon which 40 million Americans and 15% of our nation’s crops rely.

It is a place rich in diversity. Along the way, those rivers nourish some 960 species of desert flora and a rich array of wildlife, from black bears in the Abajo Mountains to mountain lions, desert bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope at Hatch Point, to peregrine falcons in Labyrinth Canyon.  21 endangered or threatened species find refuge there today and perhaps nowhere else.

It is a place rich in history. Paleo-Indians began living in Greater Canyonlands some 12,000 years ago. They left behind a largely untapped library of human history — including some of the best evidence of how human beings have adapted to climate change in the past. Others who came after them — from Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish explorers, and early Anglo settlers and outlaws — left Greater Canyonlands, one of the richest archeological regions in the world, with an average of 24 archeological sites per square mile in some parts of the proposed monument.

The idea of protecting Greater Canyonlands has endured for nearly 80 years — but protecting it has never been more urgent. Increasing pressures from oil and gas development, potash and uranium mining, and even tar sands development threaten the archeological, biological, and recreational values of this unique region — not to mention threatening the source of the Southwest’s most critical watershed. Industrial development in Greater Canyonlands would exacerbate the effects of global warming, diminishing the water supply upon which so much of our nation relies.

Protecting large landscapes is critical to mitigating the effects of climate change.  In an increasingly urbanized West, Greater Canyonlands serves as a key migration corridor for birds, mountain lions, pronghorn antelope, and desert bighorn sheep. It is a riparian wonderland in a thirsty landscape. It is a window in time to the cultures that came before us.

It is, for all of these reasons, a place worth preserving. It has come to us remarkably intact, and we can make that gift to those who follow us.

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