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Kirkpatrick: Grand Canyon Watershed Nat'l Monument can work for everyone

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Kirkpatrick: Grand Canyon Watershed Nat'l Monument can work for everyone

  • The Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon.
    USGSThe Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon.

Arizonans are a spirited, strong-willed bunch. But there is something we all agree on: From hikers to hunters, from tribal nations to tourism authorities – we love the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is an environmental treasure, economic driver and essential water source for northern Arizona and the entire Southwest. For our Native American tribes, it is the home of sacred lands.

This is why I am working on an effort to designate the Grand Canyon Watershed as a national monument. I recently met with nearly 100 stakeholders in Flagstaff for the initial discussion about this proposal.

So far, I’m hearing enthusiastic support for this project, especially from northern Arizona residents – but I’m also hearing some concerns. And after hearing both sides, I’m convinced we can find a way to make this work for Arizona.

First, a little more about why I support a national monument designation and the protections it provides: The Grand Canyon Watershed is our public land, offering magnificent beauty and endless recreational opportunities. It includes the Kaibab Plateau, which is home to sensitive plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, and contains archeological sites that are sacred to many Native American tribes. And the Colorado River provides water for millions of people throughout the Southwest. Preservation of this water source is our only option.

This natural wonder is also a major economic driver: In 2013, 4.5 million visitors to the Grand Canyon spent nearly a half billion dollars, supporting more than 6,000 local jobs. I believe a national monument designation would strengthen and expand economic growth in the region.

Now, for the concerns. Some Arizonans are worried a monument designation would curtail cattle grazing, hunting or other recreational use of these lands. That’s why I want folks to know that none of these activities are automatically prohibited by a national monument designation.

In Arizona, the Agua Fria National Monument and Ironwood Forest National Monument are just two examples of national monuments that allow hunting. And for the Grand Canyon Watershed proposal, I support preserving the important role of hunting and grazing on our public lands.

It’s also important to note that the land included in this proposal is already federal land – not private or state land. I come from a ranching family, so I’m not a fan of excessive land-use restrictions. I will work with all stakeholders to find common ground on these points.

In February, my office held a month-long public comment period on this proposal. We received more than 1,600 comments, as well as about 900 responses to a survey I sent to constituents who subscribe to my e-newsletter.

We heard from Arizona sportsmen, who want to ensure they can continue hunting responsibly in the area as they have done for decades.

We heard from members of tribal communities who want to protect sacred sites from uranium mining and commercial development but also want to ensure a national monument designation would not limit their access to these sites.

And we heard from Arizona’s hikers, bikers, campers and river runners who want to ensure the river, plants and animals and the wild allure of our Grand Canyon endure for generations to come.

Overall, the comments have been overwhelmingly in favor of a national monument designation. But it’s also clear that the path forward must be built on common ground among our sportsmen, conservationists, tribes and fellow citizens.

I’ll continue seeking your input along the way, because we all have a stake in the future of our state – the Grand Canyon State.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick represents Arizona’s CD 2 in Congress.

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