MAC: Mines and Communities

Native American tribe gains time in fight against uranium

Published by MAC on 2009-08-03

Following the Navajo nation's re-affirmation of its implacable stand against uranium, another South Western US tribe, joined by environmentalists, has won a minimum two-year moratorium on mining of the nuclear fuel.

Two-Year Time-Out From Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Claims


20 July 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - There will be no new uranium mining claims filed near Grand Canyon National Park for at least the next two years.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has decided to segregate nearly one million acres of federal lands in the Arizona Strip for two years while the department evaluates whether or not to withdraw these lands from new mining claims for an additional 20 years. The Department of the Interior is the federal agency charged with segregating U.S. public lands for possible withdrawal.

"I am calling a two-year time-out from all new mining claims in the Arizona Strip near the Grand Canyon because we have a responsibility to ensure we are developing our nation's resources in a way that protects local communities, treasured landscapes, and our watersheds," said Secretary Salazar.

"Over the next two years, we will gather the best science and input from the public, members of Congress, tribes, and stakeholders, and we will thoughtfully evaluate whether these lands should be withdrawn from new mining claims for a longer period of time."

The order complies with a June 25, 2008 resolution by the House Committee on Natural Resources enacting an emergency withdrawal across the same area. The protections do not affect three existing mines in the area scheduled for reopening or the exploration of existing patented claims.

An abandoned uranium mine near the Grand Canyon (Photo by J. Shyun)

The Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and Sierra Club filed suit against the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management in September 2008 for authorizing uranium exploration in violation of the emergency withdrawal. The groups are evaluating how today's action affects that pending litigation.

"We are pleased to see Secretary Salazar take this action to protect the lands around Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, which provides the drinking water for millions of people downstream," said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "Our waters and special places such as Grand Canyon deserve strong protections."

About 10,600 mining claims are located in the segregation area and several current uranium mining operations await state of Arizona environmental permits. The two-year segregation would prohibit new mining claims in the designated areas. Neither the segregation nor any withdrawal would prohibit ongoing or future mining exploration or extraction operations on valid pre-existing claims.

Neither the segregation nor the proposed withdrawal would prohibit any other authorized uses on these lands.

The segregated lands include 633,547 acres managed by Interior's Bureau of Land Management and 360,002 acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The lands are within portions of the Grand Canyon watershed next to Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona and contain environmental and cultural resources as well as substantial uranium deposits, made more valuable by soaring uranium prices.

An iconic American landscape and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1.2 million acres on the Colorado Plateau. The park, which draws 4.4 million visitors each year, is inhabited by rare, endemic and specially protected plant and animal species and contains vast archeological resources and sites of spiritual and cultural importance to Native Americans.

The Colorado River and its tributaries that flow through the watersheds of Grand Canyon National Park supply water to agricultural, industrial, and municipal users, including the cities of Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

A notice published in today's Federal Register initiates a 90-day public comment period on the proposed withdrawal and segregation.

During the two-year segregation, studies and analyses will be conducted to determine if the lands should be withdrawn to protect the area from new mining claims. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, this process includes participation by the public, tribes, environmental groups, industry, state and local government, as well as other stakeholders.

These efforts will be undertaken under the leadership of the Bureau of Land Management in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Park Service and will be used in support of a final decision on the withdrawal.

By law, the Department of the Interior can withdraw these lands for a maximum of 20 years. Only Congress can initiate a permanent withdrawal.

On Tuesday, Congressional hearings will take place on a bill to permanently withdraw this area from eligibility for future mining claims.

The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, led by Chairman Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, will hear testimony from witnesses on a bill to protect the area from the uranium mining boom.

Congressman Grijalva's Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009, H.R. 644, would provide for the withdrawal of more than 1 million acres of Federal land around the Grand Canyon from future mining claims.

One of the witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing is Bill Hedden of the Grant Canyon Trust, which praised today's segregation announcement. "Secretary Salazar's decision secures a much needed, but temporary respite from thousands of new uranium claims around the Grand Canyon," said Grand Canyon Trust spokesman Roger Clark. "For permanent protection, Congress now needs to pass the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act."

The Havasupai Tribe, inhabitants of the Grand Canyon region for hundreds of years, fears that contamination from uranium mining could harm the animals, air, water, and people. A tribal representative will testify at the subcommittee hearing.

The Havasupai Tribe will host a protest gathering July 25-26 south of the Grand Canyon at their sacred site of Red Butte near the south rim of the Grand Canyon, which is threatened by uranium mining. Free and open to the public, a concert will be held on Saturday night and an all-day public forum on uranium mining and protecting sacred sites will take place on Sunday.

Denison Mines of Canada plans to reopen the Canyon Mine, located near Red Butte. The Havasupai Tribe and others are opposing Denison's request for groundwater aquifer permits from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

On July 22, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will hold a pubic hearing to take comments on air and water quality permits associated with three uranium mines in the Grand Canyon area owned by Denison Mines Corporation.

The hearing will take place at the Fredonia Elementary School, 221 East Hortt, Fredonia, Arizona. Comments may be submitted at the hearing or sent on or before July 22.

Mail comments to Trevor Baggiore, Air Quality Section Manager, ADEQ, 1110 West Washington Street, 3415A-1, Phoenix, Arizona 85007 or via e-mail to

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. 


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