As we head into the final weeks of 2016, the environmental and conservation community has a lot to be thankful for this past year. While 2016 was in many respects a year we'd all love to put behind us, conservationists can pause to celebrate a few victories on public lands, from new monument designations to a formal recommendation to the Navajo Council to reject the Grand Canyon Escalade Project.

The fight to block the Grand Escalade Project is a sad reminder that we will forever have to be vigilant to prevent inappropriate development benefiting a few at the expense of all on our public lands. The grassroots effort to reject the project was, without a doubt, a major victory.

While the environmental and conservation communities have reason to celebrate a victory at the Grand Canyon, we must not turn our backs on the underlying and systemic reasons project like these continue to put pressure our public lands. There are communities which suffer systemically from high levels of poverty, low educations rates, lack of economic opportunities, high drug use, etc. These communities are desperate for anything that will bring the promise of economic prosperity--even at the risk of destroying a culturally sacred monument--in the hopes of a better and more secure economic future. Until we solve these underlying issues, we will continue to see short-sighted project proposals such as the Grand Escalade Project.

My challenge to the conservationists and environmentalists: let's offer real solutions as alternatives to these types of destructive projects in 2017. Let us not simply mobilize to block a bad project proposal but instead offer a better solution. The Grand Escalade Project is not the sustainable approach to development but there are sustainable alternatives. Instead of reject the Grand Escalade Project, let's direct investment in renewable energy infrastructure or support the growth of the sustainable tourism industry in underserved communities through micro loans and small business development. Let's invest in expanding the reach of broadband internet and ensuring a safe and reliable source of drinking water. Let us not simply show up to oppose development but let us lead the way in sustainable alternatives. 

We must work proactively with these communities to solve the systemic economic and social shortcomings. Then, just maybe,  our grandchildren will not have to fight these same battles to protect our public lands.

Photo Credit: Aftab Uzzaman (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Aftab Uzzaman (Creative Commons)