Preserving Public Land Around America’s Most Iconic National Park Necessary to Protect Grand Canyon’s Night Skies and Wildlife
Image of the night sky shows area of the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument relative to light pollution from cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. Map by Curtis Bradley, Center for Biological Diversity.
TUCSON, Ariz.—(ENEWSPF)–June 7, 2016. Sunday’s announcement designating Grand Canyon National Park an International Dark-Sky Park further highlights the urgent need to protect the public lands immediately adjacent to the park, a coalition supporting the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument said today.
The International Dark-Sky Association, which also pledged its support for the proposed national monument, announced the designation at a celebratory event during the annual Grand Canyon Star Party that attracts thousands to gaze at the world-renowned dark, starry skies. The designation comes after years of efforts by the Grand Canyon Association and the National Park Service, which has made a commitment to protect national dark sky resources that are increasingly threatened by light pollution within the continental United States.
“The IDA accreditation of Grand Canyon National Park is a game-changer for the management of public lands on the Colorado Plateau,” said IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend. “Not only does Dark Sky Park status reflect the correct balance between visitation and conservation in the national park, it also clearly underscores the role of surrounding lands in preserving the Grand Canyon’s naturally dark nighttime environment.”
The proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument includes 1.7 million acres in the North Kaibab and Tusayan Ranger Districts of the Kaibab National Forest and lands along the Arizona Strip. The proposal is supported by 80 percent of Arizona voters, tribal nations and communities of Arizona, numerous conservation organizations, the International Dark-Sky Association, local businesses and elected representatives.
“The public lands of the greater Grand Canyon region serve as a natural buffer to increasing human development, preventing light pollution from reaching the park,” said Sarah Ponticello, Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument campaign representative. “Through the designation of the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument we can ensure that buffer is maintained and that visitors now and in the future have a chance to gaze in awe toward the canyon’s night skies.”
Due to the spread of light pollution, a majority of people around the world no longer experiences dark, starry skies. Both humans and animals evolved with Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night. The widespread use of outdoor light at night, which has occurred relatively recently, has radically disrupted this cycle by lighting up the night. This significant and rapid change has detrimental effects on wildlife, disrupting key survival behaviors, such as breeding, navigation and foraging strategies.
“To protect wildlife, we must protect wild places and the dark skies that stretch above them,” said Katie Davis of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given the increasing pace at which we’re losing our open spaces to human development and our night skies to light pollution, preserving the public lands and dark skies of the greater Grand Canyon region through the designation of a national monument is critically important for wildlife conservation.”
Light from cities stretches far beyond their limits and can adversely impact distant lands. For example, light over Las Vegas is visible from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, some 275 kilometers (170 miles) away. Limiting local development by establishing a buffer around the national park is the best way to reduce the impact of artificial light at night on the Grand Canyon, and to keep its night skies dark for the benefit of future visitors. It would also protect crucial habitat for endangered California condors, numerous bat species and keystone species such as mule deer and mountain lion that all evolved in a world with pristine dark skies.
“A historic wildlife corridor stretches across the greater Grand Canyon region and for centuries animals have moved across this landscape at night,” said Greg Costello, executive director of Wildlands Network. “To protect migration pathways and offer species the best chance to survive in the face of climate change, we must look beyond the borders of Grand Canyon National Park and preserve the surrounding dark skies and the unbroken landscapes through the designation of the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument.”
In receiving IDA Dark Sky Park status, Grand Canyon National Park joins the adjacent Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, which was designated in 2014.
The Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument proposal is the culmination of more than a decade of efforts by local Arizona communities to protect the culture and environment of the greater Grand Canyon region. It represents a clear path toward more inclusive and ecologically sound management of America’s public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. The designation will make the currently 20-year ban on new uranium mining permanent, protect important Native American cultural and architectural history and preserve the last old-growth forest in the region.
In November Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, introduced legislation that provides the framework for this national monument proposal. Support for the proposal also comes from local tribal nations and communities, local elected officials, and a broad range of recreation, business and conservation interests across the state. The legislation includes language instructing the new national monument to incorporate the conservation of dark skies and natural darkness into the monument’s master management plan, a first for any national monument or park.
In light of congressional inaction, these groups, along with people across the country, have called on President Obama use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate this national monument. This action will protect the greater Grand Canyon region from light pollution, toxic uranium mining and to ensure a sustainable future for the people of northern Arizona.
Read more about IDA’s Grand Canyon National Park dark-sky designation.
Download a fact sheet on why dark skies matter.
Read more about the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument campaign.
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