National monument designation protects land from uranium mining

Aug 9, 2023, 10:00 AM | Updated: Sep 11, 2023, 11:17 am

FILE - The Grand Canyon National Park is covered in the morning sunlight as seen from a helicopter ...

FILE - The Grand Canyon National Park is covered in the morning sunlight as seen from a helicopter near Tusayan, Ariz., Oct. 5, 2013. A Virginia man died at Grand Canyon National Park on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. — President Biden designated land near the Grand Canyon as a national monument Tuesday. 

The president designated the land as Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. The new designation protects the land from future uranium mining. 

The designation “protects cultural heritage, incredible biodiversity, precious waters, and the vital economic engine of the Grand Canyon region for generations to come,” according to The Wilderness Society. A fact sheet published by the White House said the monument will conserve nearly 1 million acres of land. 

The newest national monument includes spaces considered sacred to the many native tribes living in the region. It is also home to several plant species found nowhere else on earth and federally protected species such as the California condor and the Houserock Valley chisel-toothed kangaroo rat. 

Environmentalists and native tribe leaders have long lobbied for the protection of the land from uranium mining. 

Sacred places

The White House said in a fact sheet that the designation is the fifth national monument designation of President Biden’s term. 

‘Baaj nwaavjo (BAAHJ – NUH-WAAHV-JOH),’ the first part of the monument’s name, means “where indigenous peoples roam,” in the Havasupai language. The second part,  ‘i’tah kukveni (EE-TAH – KOOK-VENNY)’ means “our ancestral footprints,” and is from the Hopi language. 

According to the White House, the name was chosen to reflect the significance of the Grand Canyon area to the many tribal nations that live there. 

“(The) monument designation protects these sacred places for cultural and spiritual uses, while respecting existing livestock grazing permits and preserving access for hunting and fishing,” according to the fact sheet.  

The Biden-Harris administration has a commitment to honoring and respecting Tribal sovereignty, protecting Tribal homelands, incorporating Indigenous Knowledge, and robust Tribal consultation into planning and decision-making, according to the fact sheet. 

Advocates of the designation

Advocates have argued that mining in the area threatens the watershed. 

Uranium deposits sit deep within the sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone of the American Southwest. At least eight uranium mines have been in operation near the Grand Canyon, and they continue to threaten the springs inside the national park. 

Since miners punctured an aquifer at Pinyon Plain Mine, over 40 million gallons of water full of uranium and arsenic have been drawn out of the mine shaft. The Grand Canyon Trust said that recent research discovered that water from shallow aquifers percolates into the Redwall-Muav aquifer, which is deeper. This aquifer is the main source of water for the springs in the Grand Canyon. 

 The Center for Biological Diversity said that uranium mining has polluted water that flows through the canyon’s streams and springs. 

Uranium mining

When Uranium prices spiked in the mid-2000s, companies placed numerous mining claims on the land. Despite the mining band that former President Barack Obama placed on the land in 2012, the land remained threatened. The designation of the land as a national monument will permanently protect the land from mining. 

The Havasupai, one tribe that lives deep in the canyons on the newly designated land, relies on the water in the area to survive. Further contamination could threaten their food and water sources. 

Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive mineral. Low levels of exposure to uranium are often harmless, said the CDC. Coming into contact with large amounts of uranium, however, can cause adverse health effects. The CDC said exposure can cause kidney damage and several types of cancer. 

“The monument designation not only preserves the greater Grand Canyon region and watershed, among other benefits, this designation prevents new mining claims from being issued, thereby protecting land and water,” said the Grand Canyon Trust. 

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National monument designation protects land from uranium mining