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Sun, Sept. 20

Endangered lands list<br>includes GCNP ecosystem

WASHINGTON — The Grand Canyon ecosystem, including Grand Canyon National Park and the new Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, were included on the Wilderness Society’s annual list of "15 Most Endangered Wildlands," released last month.

The society included Grand Canyon on the list "because corporate interests threaten to prevail, rather than sound environmental policy."

The last week of March, U.S. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton sent letters to state and local officials soliciting suggestions on ways to best manage the country’s newest national monuments. Chairman of the House Resources Committee Representative James V. Hansen (R-Utah) also sent letters to 15 House members whose districts include new monuments and offered to redraw boundaries or even erase the monuments if that is the desire of those members.

As a result of the efforts of Norton and Hansen, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument could be opened up to mining, other forms of development, readjustment of monument boundaries, and possibly even abolished, Wilderness Society officials said.

Both Norton and Hansen claim there was no public input in the designation of recently designated national monuments.

According to the Wilderness Society, a poll conducted last year showed that 78 percent of Arizonans supported the protection of Grand Canyon-Parashant area as a National Monument.

"Grand Canyon National Park was created and originally protected by President Teddy Roosevelt as a national monument," said Pam Eaton, Four Corners regional director for the Wilderness Society. "Its only fitting to preserve this conservation legacy by protecting some of the special places adjacent to the Canyon as a new national monument. The Bush administration’s current strategy in dealing with national monuments is nothing more than a classic case of a ‘solution in search of a problem’ tactic."

One of the more popular ways to see Grand Canyon has proven to be through air tours. But the Wilderness Society officials believe the noise from air tours disturb natural quiet for visitors.

The U.S. Air Tour Association has suggested the possibility of seeking an injunction in federal court to prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from replacing two scenic air routes along the Colorado River from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon National Park with more direct routes.

The FAA believes the routes would reduce noise and improve safety as required by the Overflights Act of 1987.

"Our national parks represent only a fraction of our nation’s public land, yet they are the treasures that define who we are as a nation," said Rose Fennell, national parks director for the Wilderness Society. "The National Park Service operates 384 national parks on a budget of only $1.65 billion. That is about a half billion dollars less than the Pentagon spends to build and outfit one B-2 bomber."

The Bush administration pledged to review many environmental regulations proposed by the Clinton administration. The air-tour industry has committed to persuading Norton to include the air-tour restrictions in any review, Bill Summers, legislative director at the Helicopter Association International told the New York Times.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument encompasses the Shivwits Plateau region, a vast tableland and adjacent low desert lying north of the western end of Grand Canyon National Park in northwestern Arizona.

The Wilderness Society claims the disturbance to the area, measured at more than four times the normal background level, has forced peregrine falcons to abandon their nests and bighorn sheep to leave their isolated mountaintops.

The society also says that the NPS predicts that by 2010, no part of the park will retain naturally quiet conditions unless further steps are taken to restrict air tours.

In conjunction with the just-released list, the Wilderness Society offered a recommendation. The organization said the "Bush Administration should adopt a hands-off policy when it comes national monuments. The National Park Service and the FAA must come up with a noise management plan that will significantly restore natural quiet to Grand Canyon by reducing the amount of noise produced by low flying aircraft in the park."

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