FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - -Just look around this room," said Claudeen Bates Arthur, legal counsel to the Navajo Indian Nation. "I am hard put to categorize anybody here."
Arthur was observing the individuals gathered last winter to talk
about protecting the vast Colorado Plateau - an area that includes
parts of five states and surrounds the Grand
Sitting around six tables were a Mormon
bishop, a former Harvard Business School instructor, an ex-Marine,
a one-time Fort Worth, Texas, land developer, a Grand Canyon
boatman, a physician, a retired university president, a former
newspaper editor, an Indian tribal chairman, a wealthy Quaker and a
water policy guru. On the edge of the crowd stood a former Phoenix
mayor who has designs on higher office.
casual observer there wasn't an environmental crusader in sight.
Nevertheless, a sense of mission came through the conversation
among members of the Grand Canyon Trust: to act as stewards of the
enormous Colorado Plateau, to oppose corporate and bureaucratic
interests who would develop the area for short-term gain, to strive
for a more sustainable future for all the Plateau's creatures, not
just bears, mountain lions, eagles and fish, but working people,
With 6,000 members from 48 states and nine
foreign countries, the Grand Canyon Trust's mission is to seek that
elusive, ecologically sustainable balance between resource use and
preservation of the air, water, land and ancient
"The challenge for
us is to show leadership for the region," says Trust executive
director Tom Jensen, formerly a congressional staffer for Sen. Bill
Bradley (D-N.J.) on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources. The region is the size of the New England states, New
York and Pennsylvania - 130,000 square miles - but its population
is a paltry 1.2 million people, or about 2 percent the density of
The Trust's peacemaking, usually
non-confrontational style would have been regarded as just this
side of traitorous during the boom of the late 1970s and early
"We always look to see
if we can sit down with the archenemy to find common ground first,"
says Roger Clark, the group's conservation director. "If that
doesn't work, we regroup and pursue other options."
What makes the Trust different from mainstream
environmental groups is its belief that people who disagree about
many things - from religion and birth control to guns and predator
control - can still find common ground when it comes to preserving
the Colorado Plateau from mindless growth. That means getting to
know local people in small towns and hashing out what "quality of
life" really means.
The idea for the Grand
Canyon Trust was sown by river runner Martin Litton and by the
veteran California conservationist Huey Johnson on a raft trip
through the Grand Canyon in 1983. It was during the time when
Interior Secretary James Watt seemed determined to transform the
Plateau into a national sacrifice area for the nation's energy
When the Trust began in 1985, it was
incorporated by a handful of canyon-lovers, including former
Harvard Business School professor Jim Trees, now a Utah fruit
It was nourished by then Arizona Gov.
Bruce Babbitt, who says he had mulled the idea for years, and also
by Stewart Udall, Interior secretary under Kennedy and
Of the Plateau, the late writer Edward
Abbey wrote, "There is no other region on earth much like it, or
even remotely like it ... this is a landscape that has to be seen
to be believed, and even then, when confronted directly by the
senses, it strains credulity."
To be sure,
early on a summer day on the south rim of the Grand Canyon that
divides the plateau in half, one can still see 100 miles in any
direction. But the finely sculpted lines on distant buttes and
mesas, north into Utah, east into New Mexico, west toward
California and southward into Arizona, are often smudgy. The
canyons wear a mantle of yellow haze emanating from nearby cities,
power plants, smelters and toxic dumps.
A patchwork of jurisdictions
Politically, the Plateau is also smudgy. Those who would form a new
consensus run smack into the Plateau's balkanized plight. More than
60 percent of it is publicly owned and managed from distant places
by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the
National Park Service. Another 25 percent belongs to Native
Americans, 6 percent to states, and the balance is held
Public administration of the Plateau
is a crazy-quilt patchwork of competing, often discordant
jurisdictions and management authorities: four states, a dozen
Indian tribes, 34 counties, 225 communities, 26 national parks,
monuments, national historic sites and recreation areas, 15
national forests and 10 Bureau of Land Management
It is through this maze the Grand
Canyon Trust tries to cut a productive path. It confronts impasses
between the various jurisdictions which have been made even more
intractable by "command and control" regulations from Washington,
the reluctance of national environmental groups to consider local
economies in their reform proposals for the region, and by the
frequently arrogant refusal of developer/federal agency forces to
halt their extractive ways with the land.
Finally, what's never mentioned in tourism brochures designed for
the Plateau's 6-10 million annual visitors, probably half of them
from overseas, is that this domain, romantic impressions
notwithstanding, is a boom-and-bust third-world colony serving the
whims of distant, first-world regions.
includes public natural resources exploited at below-market prices.
A small, politically weak populace provides cheap labor, and few
rules exist to govern future growth and development. Among
residents, this noxious stew has created doubts and fears which are
undermining their sense of place.
hopes to address those concerns, as well. For example, Trust
employee Tony Skrelunas is working with the Native American Tourism
Council to help capture and keep some of the revenue garnered by
tourism, Clark notes.
Trust officials savor
accolades from such old hands on the Plateau as Sam Taylor, editor
of the Times-Independent in Moab, Utah. He applauds the group for
being a "real broker for compromise, for trying hard to get both
polarized extremes to find areas of consensus."
The national media haven't paid much attention, perhaps, but the
Grand Canyon Trust's recent accomplishments
* Negotiating a settlement with the
Navajo Power Plant owners at Page, Ariz., to slash emissions by 90
percent by 1999. The coal-fired plant dumps 70,000 tons of sulfur
dioxide emissions into the Grand Canyon airshed every year. Located
16 miles from the Grand Canyon, it is the dirtiest coal-fired plant
in the West.
The Bureau of Reclamation resisted
controls while the Bush administration drew the line at a 70
percent reduction. The Trust held out for and got 90
* Leading the fight for the Grand
Canyon Trust Protection Act, passed in 1992, that renders illegal
the long-standing federal policy of maximizing hy-dropower
generation at Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River at the expense
of downstream resources in the Grand Canyon.
Drafting the provisions of the National Parks Overflights Act to
reduce noise levels in Grand Canyon National
* Wearing down Arizona highway interests,
particularly Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, who had urged a
billion-dollar super-road through Flagstaff that would extend I-17
into Utah and on to Canada.
In early 1993,
highway backers determined - without benefit of public involvement
- that an unbroken interstate highway system from Mexico to Canada
through the heart of the Colorado Plateau was the ideal route to
capture trade dollars from south of the border.
A year ago, the early warning alarm systems at the Trust's
Flagstaff office began clanging. Rejecting a confrontational
approach, Trust staffers instead lined up other conservation and
citizen groups to write letters to the state of Arizona and its
All carried the same message:
Arizona's plan would violate the Intermodal Surface Transportation
and Efficiency Act, a new law whose intent is not to perpetuate the
practice, says Trust conservation director Clark, of "thoughtlessly
pouring more concrete into massive interstate highways."
Clark wrote that letter despite being advised
by the governor's aides that the I-17 proposal was the only route
because it was the shortest and least costly option. An alternative
route from Phoenix to Las Vegas, Clark was told, was off the
Spurred by stories of what happened to
towns like Ash Fork, Williams, Peach Springs and Seligman, Ariz.,
after I-40 replaced U.S. Route 66, the Trust and its allies refused
They went to those communities
for support and one of the community leaders they found was
Winslow, Ariz., Mayor Georgia Metzger. She recalled that I-40 meant
more than the loss of business to her
businesses in town were where people got to know each other," she
said. "When the large department stores, gas stations, and grocery
stores relocated out on the interstate, we lost a sense of
familiarity in our small community. Crime increased, I think,
because we no longer knew who to trust."
in late July 1993, the state released its draft report. It turned
out that the existing U.S. Hwy. 93 route from Phoenix to Las Vegas
"is a much more cost effective route, with fewer environmental
The super-road was dead; the
Trust's brokering had paid off.
The Trust has
also become involved in public-land grazing reform through an
association with Dan Dagget, an environmental activist who has
received foundation grants to write a book about 10 ranches.
Tentatively titled Good Stewards, Shared Vision, Dagget says his
book will focus on cattlegrowers who work hard to keep riparian
areas healthy and all their land in good shape.
Dagget, a Sierra Club member, has a critic in Arizona
environmentalist Bobbie Holaday. She says a "working group" she
began in 1989, composed of six ranchers and six environmentalists,
including Dagget, eventually leaned so much toward cattle-growing
it should have been called "the sodbusters."
Dagget denies the charge. The 6-6 group has only a tangential
connection with the Trust, notes Clark, and has not met for about a
year. "We contracted with Dan in order to use his talent and
expertise. We assume ranching will continue in the area - though in
a much different way. We will continue to seek out the best
examples and set them forward."
Appleseed of old, Trust staffers go from town to town preaching the
new conservation gospel of the 1990s. At a recent meeting of the
Sedona Academy in Prescott, Ariz., about 100 citizens, who gather
annually in a town-hall setting to discuss issues, heard Jim Ruch,
now the Trust's senior conservation advisor, offer the new
"We don't say
"education versus the economy," or "law enforcement or the
economy," " Ruch said. "Insistence on a zero-sum game with winners
and losers on this issue is at the heart of many a bitter community
controversy and the heartache of many well-intentioned community
leaders." He received a standing ovation for arguing that economic
and environmental issues are part of a whole.
A permanent presence
Trust's track record, Ed Norton, one-time president and now a
senior consultant, who is known to some as a "Rottweiler in granny
glasses' for his negotiating abilities, says, "What has been needed
on so many of these issues is just constant presence, persistent
presence because the other guys - the grazing interests, the
uranium mining interests, the commodity interests - have ongoing
relations with public agencies like the Bureau of Land
"They are always
there and frequently the conservation interests are there only
intermittently, episodically at best. And frequently, very late in
the game, when decisions are already a long way down, the public
gets around," Norton continues. "I think that sometimes we just
wear the other side out."
The Colorado Plateau
is undergoing rapid change. Traditional mining, grazing, timber and
agriculture activities are being replaced by tourism, recreation
and retirement. Much of the responsibility for this onslaught is
being dumped into the laps of local communities, towns, counties
and municipalities lacking the infrastructure - water, sewage
systems, police - to
"This region is
America's last great conservation opportunity," former Interior
Secretary Stewart Udall said in an interview in Santa Fe. "And this
legacy is in peril."
Trust adherents believe
that its most durable legacy will be less visible over the long
haul, that it will come in the form of behind-the-scenes
collaborative "community-based" decision-making activities with
Indian tribes, like the Navajo; with local communities; and with
ranchers. This is critical, says Jim Ruch, "because on the Plateau,
we have developed neither the social skills nor the land ethic to
share this land in peace."
The belief that
local people can solve their problems and care for the land at the
same time is not always shared by environmentalists, particularly
the national groups. When Jim Ruch floated the "community
initiatives' idea at a meeting of such groups in Aspen, Colo., a
few years ago, Norton recalls that an important regional
representative of one of the national groups stood up and
thundered, "That will never work. The role of environmental groups
is to save the Colorado Plateau from the people who live there."
At that point, Norton got mad. He said such a
position was "arrogant, politically foolish, morally bankrupt."
Early the next morning, Bruce Babbitt, then a Trustee, took Norton
aside, saying, "Sometimes you just go off the edge. What you said
But Babbitt also told Norton that
he was right on track. "Environmentalists have to take
responsibility for environmentalism. We have to make our case for
parks, wilderness, cultural resources in terms of people's lives -
their desire for jobs and income and family, community stability."
Because Trust founders sought the kind of
credibility that derives from being close to the Plateau's
problems, they took the unusual step of locating their headquarters
near the base of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff and their
field office in Washington, D.C., and they have recently opened
another field office in St. George, Utah.
its headquarters, Trust officials are moving down a number of paths
that others have not taken. Eventual agreement on the Plateau, Ruch
believes, must start with basic
and perspectives are out of balance," says Ruch, "it is always
easier to wreck the train than it is to get the railroads to run on
time. Today, on the Colorado Plateau, we are pretty talented at
train wrecks." n
Arizona, James Bishop Jr. is working on a book about Edward