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Happy New Year, Grand Canyon!

About a century ago, a Republican president said:

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

Teddy Roosevelt was right then. And President Obama was right last Monday to take action to prevent uncontrolled uranium mining from marring streams, wildlife habitat and archeological sites across a million acres of public land next to the Grand Canyon.

Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, signed an order withdrawing the million acres from hard rock mining claims for 20 years. Numerous editorials, including in the LA Times and Arizona Republic, applauded the move, as did long-time supporters of the ban, including local and national conservation groups and Indian tribes whose ancestral lands have now been protected for two decades.

It was the type of bold action we’d love to see more of from this administration.

Not everyone was pleased by the announcement. The National Mining Association vowed to challenge the withdrawal, to help big corporations headquartered in Canada and the UK who are already attempting to push ahead with mining in the area.

But Earthjustice will be there in court if the miners sue, working with the canyon's champions, including the Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club to defend the administration's decision.

There are still uranium mines near the Grand Canyon. And there will probably be a few more in the future even with the 20-year withdrawal, since the withdrawal honors any existing mining rights companies may have.

But the Interior Department’s environmental analysis shows the clear benefits of the withdrawal. As compared to doing nothing, the 20-year withdrawal will result in a 90 percent reduction in surface disturbance from exploration and mining; reduce impacts to wildlife habitat by two-thirds; better protect threatened and endangered wildlife; result in less than half the air pollutant emissions; and cut water usage and ore-hauling trips by about two-thirds.

The withdrawal would result in less likelihood of harm to cultural and American Indian resources. And it would be less likely to result in uranium contamination at certain small South Rim springs.

All in all, this is a great way to start the new year. Let’s hope more victories like this are in store for the West’s public lands.

(Listen to an interview with Ted Zukoski).

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