History of Conservation of Grand Canyon
Written by Grand Canyon Trust. Photos by Marc Muench
Formation of Grand Canyon Trust
In the early 1980s, amid lively campfire conversations on the banks of the Colorado River, a group of river runners and environmental activists commiserated about growing threats to the Grand Canyon and the need for a regional group committed to its conservation. Those conversations would lead to the 1985 founding of the Grand Canyon Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Grand Canyon. Since then, the Trust has grown steadily in its people power and mission to safeguarding the wonders of the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau, while supporting the rights of its Native peoples.
Early Conservation of Grand Canyon
In the beginning, the Trust worked to protect the Canyon from its most obvious threats. For the young organization, that meant confronting issues of solitude-shattering noise from helicopter and airplane tours, air pollution from nearby coal plants, and downstream destruction caused by Glen Canyon Dam. The Trust worked with Senator McCain to pass the 1987 National Parks Overflights Act, which prohibited aircraft from flying below the rim or outside of designated corridors.
The Trust also negotiated more conservative sulfur dioxide controls for the Navajo Generating Station, the largest source of visibility impairing pollution in the Canyon. They also successfully sued to modify wildly fluctuating hydropower releases that damaged beaches and other resources downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. Soon after, they helped pass the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act, which changed the operations of the dam to reduce impacts to the Colorado River corridor through the Canyon.
Conservation in the Early 2000s and Beyond
Later campaigns to protect the Grand Canyon included successfully reducing emissions from three of the region’s coal-fired power plants, resulting in the 2005 closure of Mohave Generating Station and the Black Mesa strip mine that supplied it with coal. The Trust then established its Native American program to assist indigenous communities in developing local economic alternatives to extractive industries. It also supported Navajo families in their successful 8-year fight to stop a mega-resort and gondola at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers.
Most recently, the Trust worked with Havasupai and other partners to secure a 20-year ban on new uranium mines on more than a million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park, and is currently working to make the ban permanent through legislation.
Growth of Conservation
Those early conservation wins established the Trust’s position as a steadfast advocate for the Grand Canyon. At the same time, the Trust began to diversify its strategies, programs, and scope to include the entire Colorado Plateau. It is a region with a greater density of national parks, wilderness areas, national monuments, and other protected areas than any other region in the country. And yet, it is a region that continues to be one of our nation’s most imperiled.
More than a century of intense resource extraction and exploitation has left the Colorado Plateau scarred. This continues to threaten the majority of lands that comprise the Plateau, and climate change threatens to undo its natural and cultural intactness at a faster rate than any other region on this continent. The need for staunch protection and forward-thinking stewardship of the wonders of the Plateau, from Bears Ears to the Grand Canyon, has never been greater.
Conservation of Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau Continue
The roots of the Grand Canyon Trust are in the river itself, but over the years, the Trust has emerged as an effective and respected regional conservation organization seeking collaborative solutions to safeguard the wildest corners of the Colorado Plateau. For example, to protect abundant and flowing waterways, the Trust is restoring vital forests and springs. To ensure bio-cultural diversity across the Plateau, the Trust is supporting Native communities to balance cultural preservation, sustainable economic development, and environmental protection. Working together, we continue to protect the places so many of us live and play in, for now and future generations. Learn more about how you can get involved with their work at www.grandcanyontrust.org.