6/21/2011 Gallup Independent: Off Limits Interior protects 1 million Grand Canyon acres By Kathy Helms Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said Monday that he will make an emergency withdrawal for six months of approximately 1 million acres of federal lands near the Grand Canyon to protect it from new uranium mining claims while the Bureau of Land Management completes its study on a 20-year mineral withdrawal. Salazar made the announcement at the Mather Point Amphitheater in Grand Canyon National Park where he was joined by BLM Director Bob Abbey, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt. An order will be published in the Federal Register within the next week. A final Environmental Impact Statement that evaluates a preferred alternative of a 20-year mineral withdrawal on those same lands is expected to be released this fall. Salazar directed BLM to identify the full 1 million acre uranium withdrawal as the preferred alternative. But even if selected, it will not stop uranium mining in northern Arizona.
“Uranium, like oil and gas, solar, wind, geothermal, and other sources, remains a vital component of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy. We will continue to develop uranium in northern Arizona, Wyoming and other places across the country,” he said.
There are possibly a number of valid existing rights in the proposed withdrawal area, according to Salazar, and he expects continued development of those claims and the establishment of new mines over the next 20 years.
“In fact, cautious development with strong oversight could help us answer critical questions about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area. This science, derived from experience, would help others decide what actions are necessary to protect the Grand Canyon,” Salazar said.
The lands are within portions of the Grand Canyon watershed next to the park and contain vast archaeological resources and sites of spiritual and cultural importance to about a dozen American Indian tribes, among them Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Havasupai, Hualapai, San Juan Southern Paiute, and White Mountain Apache. The Colorado River corridor also is the location of traditional collection areas for plants and minerals, as well as contemporary prayer and offering places, traditional cultural properties and sacred sites.
Uranium mining activities on lands adjacent to the park could result in environmental and watershed contamination, according to a report by the National Parks Conservation Association. Potentially harmful materials from past mining activities are still present in parts of the park.
“Our ancestors could not have known that one day the Grand Canyon would attract more than 4 million visitors a year. That hunting, fishing, tourism, and outdoor recreation would generate an estimated $3.5 billion in economic activity in this area. Or that millions of Americans living in cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles would rely on this river and this canyon for clean, healthy drinking water,” Salazar said.
“Like our ancestors, we do not know how future Americans will enjoy, experience, and benefit from this place. And that’s one of the many reasons why wisdom, caution, and science should guide our protection of the Grand Canyon. In this moment, we face a choice that could profoundly affect the Grand Canyon in ways we do not yet understand.”
Some of the lands near the Grand Canyon contain uranium resources that have helped meet America’s energy needs, he said. Over the last 20 years, eight uranium mines have operated in the area and one study has shown that an additional eight to 11 mines might be developed. “The question for us, though, is not whether to stop cautious and moderate uranium development, but whether to allow further expansion of uranium mining in the area,” Salazar said.
Monday’s announcement follows efforts by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., scientists, tribal and local government leaders, businesses and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens to secure protections for the region and its waters.
“This is a great day for the Grand Canyon, its wildlife and everyone in the Southwest who relies on the Colorado River for drinking water,” said Sandy Bahr, the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter director.
The emergency withdrawal, like the temporary segregation imposed by Salazar in July 2009, would prohibit the location of new hard rock mining claims under the 1872 Mining Law. However ongoing or future mining exploration or extraction operations on valid preexisting claims could continue. The temporary segregation expires July 20.
Roger Clark, Air & Energy program director for Grand Canyon Trust, applauded Salazar’s announcement, Grijalva’s commitment to the long-term protection of Grand Canyon’s watersheds through legislation, and Havasupai elders for their lifelong opposition to uranium mining within their historic homeland.
“The Grand Canyon Trust is honored to join First Americans, congressman Grijalva, and Secretary Salazar in protecting our region’s water from contamination by uranium mining. The secretary said that water is the Grand Canyon’s and our arid region’s ‘lifeblood.’ We wholeheartedly agree,” Clark said.
At the time of the temporary segregation, 10,600 hard rock mining claims existed. Today, approximately 3,500 claims remain. The emergency withdrawal will help maintain the status quo until a final decision is made.