Secretary Salazar's Remarks from Mather Point at the Rim of the Grand Canyon
June 20, 2011
Thank you very much for being here today at this wonderful American location. Today’s announcement really is about two things. The first is for all of us who are from the west and recognize the importance of water. Water truly is the life blood of our communities, it’s the life blood of our economies, and it’s the life blood of who we are. So the steps we are announcing today is about the protection of that life blood. The second is this is also an announcement about jobs and tourism. We know that that the millions of visitors that come here to the Grand Canyon every year and come to all of our national parks and our wildlife refuges and our great natural wonders throughout this country really add an incredible amount to the economy of the United States. Even as I was walking in this morning meeting a young man who is here from the UK who has come here to visit as do the millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon every year. They create over seven and half million jobs a year for the United States so we need to keep in mind that tourism and our natural wonders are very much part of the good economics of our country.
One hundred and forty-two years ago, John Wesley Powell and his crew became the first explorers ever known to successfully steer their way through the rocks and gorges, the rapids and whirlpools, of America's greatest natural wonder: the Grand Canyon.
Powell came here to read the story of our planet in the layers of the canyon walls. He came to study the forces that shaped this land, pebble after pebble, flood after flood, over 2 billion years.
To be here for John Wesley Powell or for any of us is to be overwhelmed and humbled by the scale of geologic time. The minutes, hours, and days by which we measure our lives are hardly an instant in the life of these canyons.
Yet, all of us by the decisions we make in our short time here can alter the grandeur of this place.
Our ancestors understood this. Time and again, the tribal communities who have inhabited this land, people like John Wesley Powell, Theodore Roosevelt, and Stephen Mather, helped us choose the protection of the ancient over the pressures of the now.
As Teddy Roosevelt famously implored from this very place: Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.
That courage, that wisdom, that patience is why we have Grand Canyon National Park today. Why we have iconic places like Yosemite and Yellowstone, and wild and untrammeled forests and public lands for all Americans to enjoy and explore.
Our ancestors for sure could not have known that one day the Grand Canyon would attract more than 4 million visitors a year. That hunting, fishing, tourism, and outdoor recreation would generate an estimated $3.5 billion dollars just in this area alone. Or that millions of Americans living in cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles would rely on this water, on this river, and on this canyon for clean, healthy drinking water and water supplies for agriculture.
And many Tribes in the area see their history and their culture woven throughout the landscape of this Grand Canyon.
Like our ancestors, we do not know how future Americans will enjoy, experience, and benefit from this place. And that's one of the many reasons why wisdom, caution, and science should guide our protection of the Grand Canyon.
In this moment, we face a choice. We face a choice that could profoundly affect the Grand Canyon in ways that we do not yet understand.
Some of the lands near the Grand Canyon contain uranium resources that have helped meet our energy needs. Over the past 20 years, eight uranium mines have operated in the area and one study has shown that a possible additional eight to eleven mines might be developed in the area under already valid existing rights.
The question for us, though, is not whether to stop cautious and moderate uranium development, but whether to allow further expansion of uranium mining in this area and the establishment of location of what would be thousands of uranium mining claims at this point.
The Bureau of Land Management, under the outstanding leadership of Director Bob Abbey, has been carefully studying this question since July of 2009, when I initiated a two-year closure of the area to new uranium mining claims.
BLM, in coordination with other agencies, the States, Counties, Tribes, and other partners published a draft environmental impact statement that examined whether to implement a twenty year mineral withdrawal, subject to valid existing rights, for certain areas around the Grand Canyon.
The options they considered were no withdrawal which would allow new hard rock mining claims to be filed, a partial withdrawal of approximately 300,000 acres, an alternative partial withdrawal of 650,000 acres, and a full withdrawal of approximately 1 million acres.
The BLM received nearly 300,000 comments on this draft EIS. And now the time has now come to respond to those comments and identify a "preferred alternative" for a final environmental impact statement that the agency will complete by this fall.
Based on the analysis that has been done and the public comments that have been received, in particular among the water users that recognize that the Colorado River is the life blood of their communities, I am directing two steps to be taken today.
First, I am ordering a temporary emergency withdrawal through December 20, 2011 of the full one million acres we are studying for the potential long-term withdrawal, subject to valid existing rights. This emergency six-month withdrawal will ensure that no new mining claims can be filed after the current two-year segregation expires on July 20th.
Second, based on the input and advice and guidance from Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, United States Geological Services Director Marcia McNutt, and the United States Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, I am directing the BLM to identify the full one million acre uranium withdrawal as the preferred alternative in the final EIS.
This alternative, if ultimately selected, will ensure that all public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park are protected from new hard rock mining claims, all of which are in the watershed of the Grand Canyon.
Now this remains an ongoing process. Based on this direction, BLM will complete the environmental analysis of the preferred alternative and other alternatives and publish a final environmental impact statement this fall. I will then be ready to make a final decision on the potential 20-year mineral withdrawal.
Finally, I want to make a couple of things clear.
First, I know some critics will falsely claim that with a full one-million acre withdrawal from new hard rock mining claims, we would somehow be denying all access to uranium resources.
That, of course, is not true. Uranium, like oil and gas, solar, wind, geothermal, and other resources, remains a vital component of a responsible and comprehensive energy plan for our nation. We will continue to develop uranium in northern Arizona, Wyoming and other places in the country.
It is worth noting again that we believe there are likely a number of valid existing rights in the proposed withdrawal area even if the preferred alternative is ultimately selected as the final decision. We expect continued development of those claims and the potential for new mines over the next twenty years. But what we will not allow however is the location of additional mining claims.
In fact, cautious development with strong oversight could help us answer critical questions about water quality and environmental impacts in the mining area. This science, derived from experience, would help others decide what actions are necessary to protect the Grand Canyon.
Second, as we move through the final analysis toward a decision, let us be reminded of what these canyons have taught us in the conservation arena for our nation and our world and teach us even today.
It is what John Wesley Powell and his crew experienced here as they risked their lives more than a century ago.
And it's what families sense when they stand on this rim: as we stand here today as President Roosevelt stood here so long ago. That our lives are fleeting instants when measured against the geologic time and forces that forged this Grand Canyon.
But our decisions, our actions, can alter billions, billions of years in all its wonder and glory.
So let us be cautious. Let us be patient. Let us be humble.
Now this decision that I have arrived at today is a decision which I arrived at with long deliberation and input from the key leadership at the United States of Department of Interior and United States Department of Agriculture. But I can say without a doubt that one of the great leaders and ambassadors for making sure the conservation agenda of the United States of America is one that is upheld day by day, week by week, for generations to come and that is your congressman state of Arizona Raul Grijalva. We will recognize him. Please stand Congressman. Thank you so much for your leadership and within the United States Department of Agriculture, Secretary Tom Vilsack and Under Secretary Harris Sherman together with Chief Tidwell from the U.S. Forest Service have been involved with us as we have set aside these lands because a significant portion of the million acres are administered by United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service.
And within my agency and they will speak in this order. I am always comforted and get great guidance by making sure that I rely on the advice and wisdom of the best team I believe ever assembled at the Department of Interior to lead the great agencies of our Department. We will hear first from the Director of Bureau of Land Management Bob Abbey, who over sees nearly two-hundred fifty million acres of America’s lands from many of the states across the west and places like Alaska, but this is one of the very special places that he administers. You will also hear from Director John Jarvis who oversees our nearly four-hundred national park units and he is one of our outstanding leaders within the Department in making sure we fulfill our mission to protect the natural resources of our country as well as to serve as custodians of America’s history and we will hear from Doctor Marcia McNutt, who oversees the Unites States Geological Survey with it ten thousand employees, which is the best earth science agency, now over a hundred years old, who has is viewed upon by scientist around the world as the best earth science agency on our earth. She has been involved in helping us with the science and developing the science around this initiative. So I will turn it over at this point to Director Bob Abbey. Thank you.