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Down on copper mine

Ariana Brocious | Nov 23, 2009 09:50 AM

Plans to move forward with what would be the third- or fourth-largest copper mine in the country have been shelved for another year. The U.S. Forest Service has postponed an environmental impact study for a proposed copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Ariz., until April 2010 (see our 1997 story). This will push the final decision on the Rosemont mine back to late 2010, six months later than originally planned, according to the Arizona Daily Star:

Last month the Forest Service announced it would have to delay release of the environmental analysis because of complex, controversial issues surrounding the project, including water supplies, water pollution, air quality, traffic, effects on Indian ruins and other cultural resources, and effects on wildlife habitat.

Indeed, the project has caused quite a stir in nearby communities, including Sonoita, Elgin and Green Valley, where residents came out in droves to protest the mine proposal at two public meetings in late October with Jay Jensen, a top USDA official. Concerns ranged from the economic impact on tourist destinations to the destruction of scenic views and local communities, as well as negative environmental effects. Wade Bunting of the Sonoita Community Action Alliance voiced his worries in the Arizona Daily Star:

“It’s a massive industrial project. The mine will be the death blow to our unspoiled natural environment.”

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Keeping uranium out of the Grand Canyon

Marty Durlin | Nov 23, 2009 06:53 AM

Are 21- year-old documents adequate to approve reopening a uranium mine about 15 miles north of the Grand Canyon? The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Trust say no, and they're suing the Bureau of Land Management for giving the go-ahead, claiming the agency is violating multiple federal laws by using the decades-old environmental assessment to approve the uranium mine.

The Arizona I Mine has changed ownership three times since it was permitted. It is now owned by the Canadian Denison Mines Corporation, which plans to begin mining there in the first quarter of 2010. The company proposes to extract 67,000 tons of ore, enough to produce about 900,000 pounds of yellowcake, from a 1,300-foot mine shaft that parallels an underground formation known as a breccia pipe -- a collapsed cavern filled with sediments and uranium ore.

"The breccia pipe mines are some of the highest grade mines in the United States," Denison CEO Ron Hochstein told the Arizona Daily Sun.

Hochstein told the Canwest News Service that the idea that the mine threatens the Grand Canyon ecosystem can't be justified "by any stretch of the imagination'' because of the site's distance from the park and planned environmental protection measures.

The 1988 documents do not include the southwestern willow flycatcher and four kinds of fish - all native to the Colorado River - that have since been added to the U.S. endangered species list. The conservation groups also claim the mine poses a risk to the seeps and springs at the Grand Canyon.

"If there's the potential for the mine to deplete or contaminate aquifers that discharge into the canyon, that's not a risk worth taking," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "... Neither the mining company nor the BLM can guarantee that aquifer depletion or pollution won't happen."

In July the Department of the Interior barred new mining claims on about 1 million acres of federal land around the Grand Canyon for three years. There are as many as 10,000 existing mining claims on BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands near the Grand Canyon. Some 1,100 uranium mining claims are within five miles of the Grand Canyon National Park.

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The law of necessity

Ed Quillen | Nov 19, 2009 06:00 AM

    Tim DeChristopher won't be allowed to put global warming on trial when he's on trial.
    DeChristopher majors in economics at the University of Utah. Last fall, he went into a BLM auction and successfully bid on 13 drilling leases, also driving up prices for other successful bidders. But he didn't have the $1.7 million to pay for the leases -- he didn't even have the intention to pay. In April, he was charged with felonies like interfering with a government auction and making a false representation.
    In recent preliminary maneuvering before the trial, DeChristopher tried to raise the "necessity defense" of choosing the lesser of two evils.
    That is, committing one crime was the only way to prevent a greater crime. One oft-cited example comes from the movie "North by Northwest," where the crime of drunken driving was allowed because it was the only way to prevent the greater crime of kidnapping. It also appeared in a recent episode of "Law & Order," wherein the defendant claimed that the murder of a doctor was the only way to prevent more abortions, which were murders in the defendant's eyes.
    DeChristopher argued that sabotaging the BLM auction prevented more drilling which would have led to more global warming. If the judge accepted that, then the defense could call climate experts during the trial.
    Federal Judge Dee Benson ruled against the necessity defense because DeChristopher had other options besides his false bids. He could have filed a formal protest on the leases, demonstrated outside the auction, or joined the environmental groups who sued and kept the leases from proceeding.
    In other words, even if the court conceded that global warming was a greater offense than some false bids, DeChristopher had other means at his disposal to oppose that greater offense.
    No trial date has been set. If convicted, DeChristopher could get up to 10 years in prison, although the prosecutor, Brett Tolman, said such a long sentence was unlikely.
    Although I enjoyed the "monkey wrench" aspect of DeChristoper's actions, I have to say the judge's ruling seemed sound to me. I don't want someone disabling my pickup, then successfully pleading that the vandalism was necessary to deter global warming.


Spectrum of sexuality

Arla Shephard | Nov 18, 2009 05:10 AM

On the night of June 16, 2001, Fred Martinez, Jr. was walking home from a party when he was chased into a rocky canyon on the outskirts of Cortez, Colo. The 16-year-old Navajo was cornered in the chasm’s nightmarish shadows and bludgeoned to death. Police found his body five days later. The crime shocked the community.

Martinez was openly gay, and his murder was easy to solve – the murderer, 18-year-old Shaun Murphy of Farmington, N.M., had bragged to his friends that he had “bug-smashed a fag.” The hate crime opened up frank discussions about perceptions of gender among Navajos, says Lydia Nibley, who delves into the topic in her new documentary, premiering Nov. 21 at the Starz Denver Film Festival.

Two Spirits explores the traditional Navajo belief in four genders and how it's changed over time. “Many Navajo people have been acculturated so much to Western ideas that the tradition has very nearly been lost,” Nibley says. “Learning more about who Fred was, we were instantly drawn to this idea of the balance of masculine and feminine.”

The first Navajo gender is a feminine woman, the second a masculine man, the third a male-bodied person with feminine characteristics (nádleehí) and the fourth a female-bodied person with a masculine essence (dilbaa). When Martinez came out to his mother, she identified him as nádleehí.

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Snodgrass slowdown

Sarah Gilman | Nov 12, 2009 06:35 AM

As recently as this summer, it looked like Crested Butte Mountain Resort -- a ski area in western Colorado renowned for its extreme terrain -- might finally expand onto the forested slopes of uncharismatically-dubbed Snodgrass Mountain (Gusundheit!). 

The company has been pushing the expansion for decades, and a strong local opposition movement has been active for just about as long. Opponents have long been concerned that the proposal -- the most recent version of which calls for a handful of lifts and about 276 skiable acres carved out of national forest -- would cut off public access to popular backcountry skiing and snowshoe routes on Snodgrass, increase avalanche danger on other parts of the mountain and harm wildlife habitat, among other things.

Then the economy tanked. With locals scrabbling to make ends meet, it seemed resort officials might finally have their opportunity to really sell the project -- with its promise of new jobs and revenue -- to the community, as Rachel Odell Walker reported in her April, 2009, High Country News feature, "Go sell it on the mountain."

Not so much, it turns out.

On Nov. 5, Grand Mesa Uncompahgre Gunnison National Forest Supervisor Charles Richmond rejected the resort's expansion proposal and request for federal environmental review.

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Veteran namesakes

Ed Quillen | Nov 11, 2009 07:01 AM

    It's Veteran's Day. A military post, Fort Hood in Texas, has been much in the news of late on account of a tragic mass murder. And I'm a history buff.
    These threads all came together when I found out that Fort Hood was named for an army veteran -- Gen. John Bell Hood. He did serve in the U.S. Army from 1853 to 1861, when he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate army. So we have a U.S. military post named after a man who fought against the U.S. Army.
    That got me to wondering. How many active U.S. Army bases on U.S. soil are named after Confederate soldiers? And how many are named after Union officers?
    I had never heard of any current forts named after the major Union generals. No Fort [Ulysses S.] Grant, Fort [William Tecumseh] Sherman, or Fort [George H.] Thomas. There were some old facilities now closed, like Fort [John] Logan near Denver, but nothing current.
    So I did some quick searching (the list may not be exhaustive) for active Army forts in the U.S. and their namesakes.
    Fort Meade in Maryland, named for Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Union's Army of the Potomac, and the victor at Gettysburg.
    Fort Sill in Oklahoma, named for Gen. Joshua W. Sill, who died in combat.
    Fort Carson in Colorado, named for Col. Kit Carson, who led various Union units in the West during the Civil War; mostly he fought Navajo rather than Confederates.
    As for the other Confederate namesakes:
    Fort Benning in Georgia and Alabama, for Gen. Henry L. Benning.
    Fort Bragg in North Caroline, for Gen. Braxton Bragg.
    Fort Gordon in Georgia, for Gen. John Brown Gordon.
    Fort Polk in Louisiana, for Gen. Leonidas Polk, "the fighting bishop." A West Point graduate, he left the Army for the clergy and became Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana. When the state seceded, he joined the Confederate Army.
    Fort Lee in Virginia, of course named for Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
    Add it up, and there are four active forts named for Union officers, and six named for Confederates who fought against the Union. What does this Dixie majority signify? An effort at national reconciliation after the Civil War? The power of Southern representatives and senators on military appropriation committees?
    Or that one way for an American to be honored by the U.S. Army is to fight against the Army, rather than serve in it? In that case, why isn't there a Fort Sitting Bull or a Fort Geronimo?

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An impossible Shangri-la

Jodi Peterson | Nov 11, 2009 06:30 AM

In August of last year, we wrote about the Jenson brothers' grand plans to turn a tiny, defunct ski hill in southwest Utah into a posh, exclusive mega-resort (see our story "An unlikely Shangri-la"). In building the Mt. Holly Club, the Jensons hoped to emulate the Yellowstone Club, the ultra-ritzy Montana ski and golf community.

But just a few months later, the Yellowstone Club declared bankruptcy and defaulted on a $315 million loan. This past May, the resort was sold for $115 million. Now, the Mt. Holly Club is indeed emulating the Yellowstone Club -- by following the same path to financial ruin. The projected 1,200 homes and condos never even broke ground before the tanking economy sent the project into bankruptcy. The decrepit ski area is now on the auction block for a starting bid of $1 million (its backers once estimated its value at $3.5 billion).

Jonathan Weber, publisher of, ruminated on the Yellowstone Club's demise last May:

The rich will always be with us, for sure, but in what quantities? To what extent will the contraction of the financial services industry, and the more progressive tax policies of the Obama Administration, diminish the pool of people who are able or willing to spend $5 million on a ski house at the Yellowstone Club?

In short, does the financial crisis represent a mere steeper-than-usual turn of the business cycle or a more fundamental structural reset?

The answer to that question will soon be clearly visible in the spectacular mountains of southwest Montana.

And now, the answer is also visible in the equally-spectacular mountains of southwest Utah.


The case of the missing binders

Arla Shephard | Nov 10, 2009 06:29 AM

Central Washington’s Kittitas County, hungry for economic uplift since the fall of the timber industry, has been in the limelight a lot lately for scuffles over development.  The proliferation of subdivisions there has met sharp criticism from certain corners (see Cally Carswell’s recent article “Death by a thousand wells” on the area’s over-reliance on exempt domestic water wells), and earlier this year, the timber company American Forest Land Co. struck a deal with investment group Teanaway Solar Reserve to develop a large-scale solar plant on 400 of its acres in the county (see my HCN story “Solar salvation?”).

The most recent turn in the development saga involves an investigation that centers on a set of inconspicuous black binders. The story goes something like this: American Forest recently announced plans to develop part of its 46,000 acres of land into a “fully contained community,” which would include affordable, moderate and high-end housing. Wayne Schwandt, a principal investor in the company, said American Forest hopes to do a "land exchange" whereby zoning for some of its acres (39,744 of which are currently marked as commercial forest land) would be changed to accommodate commercial and residential development.

The announcement enraged Catherine Clerf, a member of the county's Land Use Advisory Committee, who alleges that the company -- which purchased the timberland in 1999 -- has always planned to carpet its holdings with houses, reports The Daily Record.

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Bluegrass in red rock country

Ariana Brocious | Nov 10, 2009 05:17 AM

This past weekend, the HCN interns took a road trip out to nearby Moab, Utah, to experience some of the West's most dramatic landscapes and hear some good ol' tunes at the yearly folk festival.

The sunset faded as we left Colorado, cruising through darkness on I-70 to the Cisco exit. On Utah State Route 128, we passed the historic Dewey Bridge, its charred remains illuminated by the rising moon. At the Fisher Towers campground, the dry, warm air swirled around the sculpted canyon walls and Orion seemed to rest his mighty form along the ridge line.

Rosy-colored marbled spires of rock greeted us with morning’s light. We spent the day out at Canyonlands National Park, climbing down to the valley floor where monolithic rock sculptures hang suspended in time.

Sunday we trekked into town for the Moab Folk Festival, an annual event featuring “traditional, contemporary and multicultural folk music” to help “foster awareness of socio-economic and environmental issues affecting our local, regional and national communities,” with artists like the duo Indigie Femme. Composed of musicians Tash, of the Bitter Water Clan on the Navajo Nation, and Elena, of Maori and Samoan heritage, Indigie Femme performed songs about uranium mining, Native traditions and female empowerment. Alaskan bluegrass band Bearfoot brought some young talent to the stage with their mix of old-time instrumentation, new grooves and beautiful vocal harmonies. The Jimmy LaFave Band rounded out the festival with mellow jams and a few classic covers like Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” sharing the stage with another festival performer, the Burns Sisters, for the last few songs.

The outdoor stage was framed by red rock hills behind, where mountain bikers and OHVers have been battling for the past few years--forcing the BLM to step up off-road regulations.

Leaving Moab behind, we meandered back along the Colorado River, thankful that the U.S. Department of Energy has finally started moving 16 million tons of uranium tailings from the riverbanks, and watching somewhat sadly as the bold, soaring canyon walls melted into sweeping plains before reaching the interstate again.


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"A deeply troubled idea from the start"

Cally Carswell | Nov 09, 2009 09:29 AM

In 2000, when the federal government shelled out $101 million to buy what’s now the Valles Caldera National Preserve, it made one thing clear: The government wouldn’t be the preserve’s cash cow forever. But nine years later, the preserve isn't close to weaning itself off federal funding, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

Valles Caldera started as an experiment in public lands management. The 89,000-acre ranch was purchased for preservation, but would be managed as a working ranch by a for-profit government corporation called the Valles Caldera Trust. By 2015, the feds expected the trust to be able to support itself financially, a goal the GAO now says is out of reach:

[The Trust] is at least 5 years behind the schedule it set for itself in 2004. According to Trust officials, a number of factors—including high turnover among Board members and key staff and cultural and natural resources and infrastructure that were not as healthy or robust as originally believed—have delayed its progress.

... Specifically, the Trust lacked a strategic plan and annual performance plans, and it had not systematically monitored or reported on its progress ... The Trust’s financial management has also been weak. Consequently, it has been difficult for Congress and the public to understand the Trust’s goals and objectives, annual plans and performance, or progress.

... [B]ecoming financially self-sustaining, particularly by the end of fiscal year 2015 when federal appropriations are due to expire, is the Trust's biggest challenge.


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