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Grand Canyon moratorium protects outdoor recreation

This 2008 file photo shows the Colorado River\'s Horseshoe Bend.
This 2008 file photo shows the Colorado River\'s Horseshoe Bend.
Associated Press

When most of us think of the Grand Canyon, we think of endless vistas in one of the world's most famous national parks. But the Grand Canyon and the river running through it are also the lifeblood for dozens of species of wildlife valued by hunters and anglers nationwide. Colorado River trout, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and desert bighorn sheep create a sportsmen's paradise.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) applaud last week's decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to put a moratorium on uranium mining on one million acres of public land for the next 20 years. Hunters and anglers take seriously their responsibility to protect and defend lands that provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. BHA joins Sportsmen groups in Arizona — including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Deer Association, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Arizona Elk Society — in supporting this moratorium.

While Salazar's decision doesn't affect existing mining operations or claims, it does prevent new mining operations, and associated roads, from fragmenting wildlife habitat and degrading the water quality of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Sportsmen believe the moratorium will provide 20 years of valuable data to better inform future decisions for mining.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, mines near the Grand Canyon have significantly impacted water quality, with radioactive isotopes found in high concentrations in waterways. The Colorado River is the source of drinking water for over 25 million people, and this issue is of concern not just to wildlife, but also to human health.

Certainly, there is a place for mining in the Western economy but only with the greatest care when so close to one of our national treasures. Some politicians including Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Orrin Hatch have argued uranium mining would help the local economy. However, we believe the lure of boom and bust jobs is not worth the risk to the area's sustainable outdoor recreation industry. Nor is it worth long-lasting destructive impact on wildlife habitat and water quality, negatively affecting our children's outdoor opportunities and health for many generations.

President Theodore Roosevelt famously implored Americans to preserve their national treasures, including the Grand Canyon, " … for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred." Salazar's decision upholds this proud American tradition.

Bill Eckerle is a member of the Utah chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.