Sacred Land News
The Grand Canyon is close to receiving federal protection from an increase in uranium mining after the Bureau of Land Management on Oct. 26 issued a final environmental impact statement supporting Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s proposal for a 20-year moratorium on new mining claims in a million-acre buffer zone around the canyon.
In June of this year, when a 2009 temporary mining ban was due to expire, Salazar issued a six-month extension, asking the BLM to issue a final environmental impact statement evaluating his proposed action. The bureau examined that and three other scenarios — ranging from withdrawing smaller parcels of land from new claims to doing nothing — ultimately favoring Salazar’s proposed action.
Over the past few years, as uranium prices rose, thousands of claims were filed under an 1872 mining law that allows free access to public lands. This renewed interest in uranium mining put Native American tribes, environmental-protection advocates and other stakeholders on alert, and prompted the government to propose the withdrawal of land from new claims.
Increased uranium mining around the Grand Canyon has the potential to threaten aquifers and drinking-water supplies, tribal interests, the tourism economy and the park’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
BLM Director Bob Abbey said the 20-year withdrawal “would allow for cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area.”
(Claims approved before July 2009 would not be affected by the ban. According to the final environmental impact statement, 11 mines could be operating in the area in the near future. Some observers are calling for more lasting protection, such as designating the public land surrounding the Grand Canyon as a national monument.)
After a 30-day review period, the federal government will issue a final decision. Please send a letter to President Obama by Nov. 25 voicing your support for protecting the Grand Canyon.
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