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TrekWest Blog 30: Parks and Wilderness as Grand Canyon’s Basement Rocks

North Rim and Kaibab Plateau, late April

“They wanted us to know that our travels in northern Arizona and southern Utah would all be on traditional Paiute territory, and they welcomed us with pinion pine nuts, a stable food in their traditional culture…”

Canyon explorers Kim Crumbo, Kristin Caldon, and Larry Stevens disabused me of the naïve assumption that the time of palpably inane proposals in universally revered places is past.  Kristin and Larry showed me the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers, where absentee developers conspire to build a resort and tramway from rim to river.  Kristin is helping Save the Confluence to prevent this sacrilege, while Larry continues documenting precious springs and rare species to strengthen the case for protected areas. Kim took me to an old-growth ponderosa pine forest on the North Rim that is being logged – on public land, probably at a loss to US taxpayers — as you read this. Grand Canyon Wildlands Council is mobilizing supporters to oppose this killing of ancient pine forest. When can we conservationists start advancing good ideas instead of just fending off bad ones?

Right now, Kim reminded me, as he gave me a tour of Grand Canyon Wildlands Council’s proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument. If we can convince the Obama Administration that part of their legacy should be completing protection of America’s greatest canyon landscape, first protected in part by President Theodore Roosevelt, we can make a few giant strides along the Western Wildway.  With a big national park, several large national monuments, and several wilderness Areas, the Grand Canyon Ecoregion already has one of the world’s great wildlands complexes, but it is not yet great enough to assure long-term viability of its full range of native species, especially not in the face of climate chaos.  Because it’s not yet as big and well protected as it needs to be, the Grand Canyon area has lost the Colorado River otter, badgers, Mexican wolves, jaguars, several fish, and much of its old-growth forest.

The timber sale on the Kaibab National Forest that Kim and I documented did not even meet the weak criteria (cut only trees smaller than 18\” dbh) set for various thinning sales in the fire-suppressed, drought-stricken forests of the Southwest.  With such thinning projects, only small trees are slated for cutting.  Here on the Kaibab Forest, in old-growth ponderosa pine — an ecosystem type mostly lost already – the timber industry was taking trees up to two feet in diameter.

Of course, this ecologically destructive logging is a reminder of the imperative to formally protect natural areas.  Forest Service and BLM lands without extra layers of protection (beyond the fact of public ownership) are too often logged, grazed, roaded, and/or mined in damaging ways.  A Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument would protect over one million acres of public land from unsustainable resource exploitation.  It would protect the largest remnants of old-growth ponderosa pine in Arizona; would assure that northern reaches of the Arizona Trail (some of which I hiked & biked) traverse wildlands, not clearcuts; would honor traditional ways of life of native peoples and wildlife; would anchor the wildlife corridor running northwest from New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness through the Mogollon Rim to Grand Canyon National Park and north through Utah’s Paunsaugunt Plateau; and would preserve some of North America’s most spectacular scenery.

The native people of the lands encompassed by the proposed Monument want to see their ancestral lands kept natural.  Grand Canyon Wildlands Council leaders, including Kim Crumbo, have been meeting with the Paiute, who may wish to retain subsistence hunting and gathering rights in the Monument but do not wish to take part in the sorts of high-grading allowed on poorly protected public and private lands, as with trophy hunting and old-growth logging.

Several Paiute leaders went out of their way to meet Kim and me as we traveled north on the Kaibab Plateau.  They wanted us to know that our travels in northern Arizona and southern Utah would all be on traditional Paiute territory, and they welcomed us with pinion pine nuts, a stable food in their traditional culture (delicious & nutritious!).  Kim and I told the Paiute of the Western Wildway Network and its effort to save a Spine of the Continent Conservation Corridor. We asked them to ponder what a National Conservation Corridors campaign would need to include in order to win the support of many native peoples.

While trekking the proposed Monument, we really should see North Creek Canyon, Kim Crumbo and Larry Stevens agreed.  While Larry strode off to find more rare insects and spring snails, Kim and I hiked up North Canyon.  Few places are so enchanting.  Birdsong was everywhere, though the singers were hard to locate in the juniper/pinion, maple, ponderosa, and Douglas fir woodlands and forests.  Butterflies flew about in their bouncing ways, too quickly for me to photograph them for Larry’s records. Darkling beetles moved nose-down between fragrant sage bushes.  Opposite of the Northeast, where I usually ramble, trees got bigger as we climbed, and by 7000 feet or so, we were seeing some of the prettiest yellow-belly pines I’ve ever beheld.  I hugged a huge Doug-fir that I suspect could be a state champion for its species.  These grand trees and all their flitting, flying, scurrying residents are still alive because conservationists succeeded years ago in getting this small part of Kaibab National Forest designated as the Saddle Mountain Wilderness.

Where Forest Service land is not designated Wilderness or National Monument, too often it is exploited unsustainably for commodities.  President Obama should make it part of his conservation legacy to complete Teddy Roosevelt’s Grand Canyon conservation legacy: protect the rest of the Grand Canyon Ecoregion in a Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, to the lasting benefit of native wildlife and peoples, springs and streams, wildlands explorers and a future Western Wildway.

Trek West Actions:

1) Join Save the Confluence

2) Support Grand Canyon Wildlands Council’s proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument

3) Sign our petition to “Say YES! To Protecting Wildlife Habitat Corridors\”


For the Wild,

Your kind consideration of a DONATION– all to help TrekWest inspire as many people as possible to support wildlife corridors and to keep up with basic supplies and equipment — is much appreciated.

Also, thank you, SPONSORS!


3 thoughts on “TrekWest Blog 30: Parks and Wilderness as Grand Canyon’s Basement Rocks

  1. John: You are truly amazing!! I am posting a progress report in my Mountain Protected Areas Newsletter to keep your many fans in the International Network informed.
    Safe journey, friend. Larry

  2. John, it’s great to share in these experiences. Your writing is ever more vivid!

    Many thanks, George & Joan

  3. Thanks so much for your kind words, Larry & Linda and Joan & George. Encouragement from friends and family back home really helps keep me going. I’ll hope to trade stories with you in person later this year or early next. Sierra Club and mountain advocates were among friends joining recent Green River trip. A story or two from that in a later blog.

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