The Canyon and Its Public

Visitors come to the Grand Canyon to see one of the natural wonders of the world. They stand in awe on its rim, they hike its many trails, and they thrill to running the rapids on the Colorado River. Of course, all know they are within one of the country’s greatest national parks, and all have high expectations that it is preserved in perpetuity as a natural wonder in its natural state. We assume laws and management practices in place will insure that protection. And so it is meant to be. Grand Canyon National Park was established by statute in 1919 and significantly enlarged in 1975.

However, protection of this wonder does not come easily. Two factors constantly threaten the wellbeing of the park: the press of public visitation, and the impacts from various uses of adjacent lands and of the Colorado River.

Five million visitors per year is a very big number. Their impacts are as various and multifaceted as human nature can make them. Handling and taking care of this multitude without ruining the park is a constant challenge. Moreover, politics and money constantly intrude; the five million, multiplied by all the supporting services, amount to a lot of votes, and five million people spending lots of dollars is a huge attraction to those who can direct the flow of large amounts of that money to themselves.

The Park Service is caught in the middle: its objective is to manage this multitude without impairing the natural and scenic values of the park. This involves a legal framework – laws and regulations with teeth – well-founded interpretations, and determined use of park management authority.

Photo by Tony Ruckel

Photo by Tony Ruckel

Thankfully, there is an advocate whose only real objective is to protect Grand Canyon in its natural state: the public, and more particularly the individuals and non-profit organizations who fight for our environment. Bottom line: They are the advocates who can be counted on to defend the park from abuse and despoliation year-after-year. A primary weapon – and all too frequently the only immediately available weapon – in this effort is environmental law, lawyers and courts using laws passed to protect this amazing resource.

Welcome to “Voices for the Earth”!

For more than twenty years I actively practiced environmental law and was privileged to be in on its early formative efforts from the late 1960s and into the late ’80s. I continue to be involved in an advisory role. I worked on the plaintiffs’ side of the bar – non-profit citizen-based environmental organizations, particularly the Sierra Club–bringing litigation to interpret and enforce environmental laws and standards. Today I rejoice in the comprehensive development of environmental law as a recognized area of jurisprudence. The present involvement of scores – likely hundreds – of public interest lawyers daily working their skills, their knowledge of the law, and continually exhibiting their tenacity, all for the benefit of our environment, is marvelous to see. Long may it continue.

Over the last several years, I have had ample opportunity to reflect on the progress that we have made: the new environmental laws and regulations; the continued spirit and vigor of the non-profit environmental organizations; the work of the lawyers and the courts. Most of all, there are the individual citizens – the environmental activists – the backbone of the system. It occurs to me the story of this collaboration needs to be told more frequently, that the public will benefit from reading about it, and that it has profound lessons today. Consequently, I have written a book, Voices for the Earth, which I humbly hope to present to readers.

Manuscripts have been sent to some publishers, and I await news – good news, I trust. But, to me, writing is not a “final” step; rather it is the beginning of a conversation. And today conversation, review, deliberation are all possible with a significant body of the public through the Internet. Thus, I have begun this blog.

A chilly morning on the rim of the Grand Canyon

A chilly morning on the rim of the Grand Canyon

My first reference in Voices for the Earth is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Efforts to protect Grand Canyon National Park from despoliation began with the Park’s dedication in 1919, and they continue unabated on multiple fronts today, many of them involving legal actions. All of us want to see Grand Canyon in its pristine condition, but not all of us know about the constant efforts of its champions to protect it, and why these are so necessary. Voices talks about these matters, and it deals with these issues as they affect other parks, wilderness areas, and wild rivers.

I look forward to discussing these subjects in greater detail in coming posts. The history of citizens, lawyers, and the courts working to protect our treasured lands has much to teach us. Voices presents some passages in that history in which I was personally engaged.In many instances the issues, the struggles, and the legal advocacy continue today almost unabated; the past is truly prologue. This blog will explore these issues and more.I look forward to your accompanying me on this journey, and I hope you’ll join the conversation.