Ask Steve Clark for his thoughts on whether there should be uranium mining allowed close to Grand Canyon National Park and he doesn't need to search his mind for an answer.
“My gut feeling is that the Grand Canyon being what it is, one of the seven wonders of the world, that has got to take precedent over mining uranium within one mile of the Grand Canyon. That’s just my gut feeling,” quickly replies Mr. Clark, president of the Arizona Elk Society.
"We only have so much wildlands and wildlife habitat left," he went on. "All these things, nobody is taking into consideration why that land was set aside in the first place. For conservation of the land, not to be used for somebody’s whim, or for other countries to come in for mining.”
Mr. Clark spoke his mind Friday, when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released its draft environmental impact statement on whether to withdraw the lands surrounding the national park from hard-rock mining for 20 years.
The draft EIS was born out of concern that uranium mining was encroaching too close to the canyon. Back in July 2009 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar placed a moratorium on new mining claims on about 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon until threats to the canyon could be analyzed. About the same time U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009, which would have made the moratorium permanent.
In announcing the availability of the draft EIS for public comment on Friday, the Interior secretary said the moratorium has allowed scientists, researchers, and federal officials to explore the situation and reach out for public input on the issue.
“With the input of local communities, tribes, stakeholders, and scientists, the Bureau of Land Management has developed four alternatives on which we encourage people to provide their feedback and views," Secretary Salazar said in a prepared statement. "This process will help make a decision that recognizes the need for wise development of our energy resources, the importance of healthy lands and waters, and the voices of local communities, tribes, states, and stakeholders.”
The draft EIS, which you can find at this site, contains four alternatives:
* Alternative A is the No Action Alternative, under which no withdrawal would occur and hardrock mineral exploration and mining would continue throughout the study area in accordance with existing BLM and Forest Service regulations and land use plans.
* Alternative B is to withdraw about 1 million acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years subject to valid existing rights. The land is in three parcels: two are north of the Grand Canyon National Park on BLM Arizona Strip and Kaibab National Forest lands; and one is south of the Grand Canyon also in the Kaibab National Forest. The authority for the withdrawal comes from Section 204 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. If implemented, this withdrawal would not prevent any other development under laws regulating mineral leasing, geothermal leasing, mineral materials or public lands.
* Alternative C is to withdraw a reduced area of about 650,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with resources that could be adversely affected by mineral exploration and mining. The resources potentially affected are cultural, hydrologic, recreational, visual, and biologic.
* Alternative D is to withdraw a further reduced area of about 300,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with the highest concentration of resources that could adversely be affected by mineral exploration and mining.
None of the four is identified as the BLM's preferred alternative.
In Salt Lake City at the National Parks Conservation Association's Southwest Region office, Director David Nimkin endorsed Alternative B.
"NPCA has been a strong advocate of withdrawing mineral entry from the entire Grand Canyon watershed. We have witnessed extraordinary environmental damage and resultant human suffering from uranium mining activities in the past," he said Friday. "Secretary Salazar’s moratorium has appropriately given the time and attention to evaluate the potential impacts of potential hard-rock mineral mining in this most stunning and important region.
"We are strongly in favor of the Alternative B represented in the Draft EIS which reflects the highest level of protection to what is America’s favorite national park. For decades Native American tribes adjacent and within the Grand Canyon have suffered health impacts and contamination from the legacies of uranium mining," continued Mr. Nimkin. "All affiliated tribes have strongly endorsed withdrawal of some 1 million acres of Grand Canyon watershed (as reflected in Alternative B). We should accept nothing less. We look forward to examining the DEIS in detail, we look forward to participating in the public review and comment process, and we strongly favor the maximum proposal to protect this magnificent, majestic and fragile landscape from the ravages of uranium and hard-rock mining."
At the Pew Environmental Group, Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the non-profit organization, also pointed to the controls contained under Alternative B as the best for the Grand Canyon.
"The clock is ticking, and we're looking to the Obama Administration to make a call that will safeguard Grand Canyon National Park long term from new mining around its borders. We urge the administration to stand by its initial recommendation and give the Grand Canyon the full protection it deserves," Ms. Danowitz said in a statement.
"The mining industry's ability to encroach upon the Grand Canyon and other national parks underscores the need to reform the 1872 Mining Law," she added. "This act from a bygone era still allows mining to occur on a majority of western public lands at taxpayer expense and with few restrictions, and Congress and the administration should pass bipartisan legislation to replace it. Protecting the Grand Canyon and other national treasures from mining is something on which lawmakers should agree."
On its website, the Grand Canyon Trust also endorsed Alternative B:
Uranium mining produces no long-term economic benefits and risks permanently polluted landscapes. It threatens irreparable harm to the Grand Canyon and its nearly five million visitors. Tourism, not mining, has been the mainstay of the region’s economy. BLM is grossly inflating revenue projections for uranium mining and fails to reveal that most revenues go to Utah or overseas—not Arizona. Uranium mining imposes long-term health risks on local communities and is costing federal taxpayers billions of dollars to clean the mess from its last boom. We simply cannot afford another round of this deadly legacy.
Visitation to the Grand Canyon generates $687 million annually in direct, indirect and induced revenues, and contributes to the creation of more than 290,000 tourism-related jobs in the state.
There are many more reasons why the Grand Canyon Trust is supporting the 20-year ban on new mining claims, including:
* Contamination of soil and surface and ground waters that drain into the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to 25 million people.
* Desecration of sacred sites for Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo people.
* Fragmentation of wildlife habitat and harm to condors and other endangered species.
* Industrialization of public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.
Back at the Arizona Elk Society, Mr. Clark said lifting the moratorium and allowing mining to resume would be detrimental not only to the canyon but to wildlife.
“Energy, period, is development, and development is the worst thing for wildlife habitat in any state, especially any unchecked development," he said. "We have 'drinkers' up there that we built for the animals, and there are (mining) stakes within hundreds of yards of those 'drinkers.' Nobody is standing up for the wildlife, nobody is standing up for the beauty of the land. ... This mining thing is being rammed down our throats."
The BLM has scheduled public meetings from March 7 to 10 in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Fredonia, Arizona, and in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can submit written comments via mail to Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Strip District, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790, or sent as an email to NAZproposedwithdrawal@azblm.org.
Information can be found at http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html or by calling (435) 688-3200. Public Meetings will be held in all of the following locations from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.:
March 7, 2011 National Training Center, 9828 North 31st Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85051. The National Training Center (NTC), a federal building, requires non-government personnel to show drivers license, state identification or passport.
March 8, 2011 High Country Conference Center, Agassiz & Fremont Rooms, 201 West Bulter Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.
March 9, 2011 Fredonia High School, Media Center, 221 East Hortt Street, Fredonia, AZ 86022.
March 10, 2011 Homewood Suites, Santa Fe and Rio Grande Conference Rooms, 423 West 300 South Salt Lake City, UT 84101.