Grand Canyon centennial and Teton’s 90th birthday to spur conservation drive

February 26, 2019

Two of the best-known national parks reach milestones on the same date: Arizona’s Grand Canyon turns 100 and Wyoming’s Grand Teton turns 90. The dates promise to spur campaigns against mining and other potential encroachment on the two parks. The U.S. government shutdown, which began in Dec 2018 presents a new threat.

They were among the earliest acquisitions of the National Park Service (NPS), established on Aug 25, 1916.

In common with many of the 392 areas managed by the NPS, the two parks are under threat from climate change, invasive species and visitor crowding. Mining and drilling in the vicinity of Grand Canyon and the Tetons top conservationists’ present worries.

The Colorado River excavated the Grand Canyon, a mile-deep canyon stretching some 277 miles (446 km), over millions of years. In Jan 1908, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt designated more than 800,000 acres of the canyon as a national monument. President Woodrow Wilson gave it national park status on Feb 26, 1919, over opposition from politically-strong business interests.

In the approach of the Grand Canyon centennial, politically-strong business interests are attempting to roll back existing protections for the park. They have the sympathetic ear of anti-conservation lawmakers in Washington DC. The Grand Canyon Nation Trust is among conservation organizations fighting in the courts to prevent new uranium claims and extraction in the vicinity of the park. A proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, which would have afforded greater protections, died in 2016.

Ten years after the Grand Canyon became a national park, President Calvin Coolidge and Congress establishing the Grand Teton National Park. As a concession to the ranchers and tourist operators, the park only encompassed the mountains and a narrow strip at their base. The valley fronting the spectacular range, Jackson Hole, was excluded until the wealthy John D. Rockefeller bought up the land and donated it to the park service.

Working ranches still exist in Jackson Hole. They are seen as vulnerable to development that might ruin a mountain and lake postcard scene widely regarded as beautiful beyond words. The Wilderness Society has opened a petition drive to try to protect nearby areas from natural gas drilling. The organization argues that a present proposal will cause air pollution that threatens both nearby Yellowstone National Park and the Teton range and area.

The dispute over President Doland Trump’s border wall with Mexico shutdown much of the U.S. government in Dec 2018, but not the national parks. They remained open, free to visitors, with only emergency staff. Widespread reports describe them as trashed by the unsupervised flood of visitors. Depending on the duration of the shutdown, damage to the parks might be permanent.