Grijalva bill would protect 1.7M acres around Grand Canyon

House Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) yesterday said he will introduce a bill to protect 1.7 million acres of federal lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park from future mining and other threats, a measure that is unlikely to pass Congress but aims to provide President Obama a blueprint for protecting the lands under the Antiquities Act.

Grijalva unveiled the bill yesterday at a news conference in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he was joined by tribal leaders. The Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo and Hopi tribes support the legislation, a Grijalva spokesman said.

The Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument would consist of lands north and south of the national park, including much of the Kaibab National Forest and Kaibab plateau, a key watershed feeding the canyon that is home to mule deer, mountain lions and the endangered California condor.

Grijalva's bill also would establish an advisory council to help manage tribal sacred and cultural sites, forest restoration and wildlife consisting of officials from tribes, Arizona's Game and Fish Department, the scientific community, and conservation and sportsmen's groups. It would protect commercial and recreational hunting and preserve grazing and water rights, he said.

It also would make permanent the Obama administration's decision in 2012 to impose a 20-year ban on new mining claims across 1 million acres surrounding the canyon, though it would not close existing mines or impede valid existing claims, Grijalva said.

The "Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act" comes several months after Grijalva and Arizona Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Ruben Gallego sent a letter to Obama asking that he designate a Grand Canyon national monument using his executive powers (E&ENews PM, Jan. 29).

The effort is backed by conservation groups including the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity.

Grijalva's bill faces tough odds in Congress in the run-up to a presidential election year. The congressman said yesterday he does not expect it will receive a hearing, according to the Associated Press.

Yet a presidential designation has been strongly opposed by Arizona's Republican lawmakers. In July, the House voted 222-206 for an amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to the fiscal 2016 Interior Department and Forest Service spending bill to restrict agencies from implementing a presidential monument designation in Arizona and other Western states.

In March, Arizona's two Republican senators said a monument designation surrounding the Grand Canyon would block access for hunting, livestock grazing, wildfire prevention and mining.

Arizona's Game and Fish Commission has voted to oppose the monument, while five former commissioners have lent support to the monument.

"Certain special interest groups and a few misguided members of Arizona's delegation have been pushing for the president to circumvent Congress and make a massive 1.7-million-acre designation using the Antiquities Act for the Grand Canyon Watershed," Gosar said this summer. "Their intentions are clear: They want this designation in order to prevent hunting, mining, timber harvesting and grazing on this massive swath of land."

A Grijalva aide said lands in the bill all fall within Kirkpatrick's 1st District.

Grijalva is the latest Democratic lawmaker to try to push Obama's hand in designating national monuments before he leaves office. The Grand Canyon proposal would be more than twice the size of Obama's largest monument proclamation to date, the 700,000-acres Basin and Range National Monument that he designated this summer in Nevada.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in August also prodded Obama to prepare a monument designation in excess of 1 million acres in Southern California if her legislation to protect the lands continues to stall in Congress (Greenwire, Aug. 24). Feinstein's bill got a hearing last week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (E&E Daily, Oct. 9).

Two top Obama administration officials are scheduled to meet with stakeholders in Palm Springs, Calif., today to discuss the merits of protecting the lands.

Click here for a copy of the bill; for a map of the national monument, click here.

By:  Phil Taylor
Source: Greenwire