Aging mining law handcuffs the American West

 

Two of my favorite western cities, Tucson, Ariz., and Boise, Idaho, share some common blessings and one common curse.

The blessings include lovely mountain backdrops, vibrant universities and increasingly diverse economies.

The shared curse: badly misguided mining claims upstream.

The natural setting around Tucson, Ariz., such as the Santa Rita Mountains, are more precious than gold.
Courtesy of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.
Why, in the 21st Century, should communities like Boise and Tucson be shackled to an antiquated federal mining policy dating back to the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant?

I was a newspaper reporter in Boise for a short spell and when I return, I am drawn to the Boise River and its marvelous greenbelt. It’s a rare city where the trout fishing and kayaking are so good within city limits.

Folks in Boise are rightfully concerned about a Canadian company that has proposed a cyanide-leach gold mine upstream from the Boise River. Besides fishing and floating, the Boise provides about a fifth of drinking water for the largest metro area in Idaho. The battle cry there is: the Boise River is more precious than gold.

That scenario might sound familiar to folks in Tucson. There, the mining company Rosemont Copper recently unveiled plans for a giant, thirsty copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the outskirts of town. Water is even scarcer and more precious in Tucson than it is in Boise.

When the Montana winters start to wear us down, my family heads to Tucson and surrounding Sky Island mountain ranges.  We love to bird at local hotspots like Madera Canyon.

Mining has been, and will continue to be, important elements in both the Gem State and the Copper State economies. But it’s long past time to recognize that just because there is gold in the hills, it’s not always worth ripping the hill apart to get it.

When Karen and I visit Madera Canyon, we hope for a glimpse of a rare bird like an Elegant Trogon or Flame-colored Tanager. We are not alone. The two counties near Tucson bring in nearly $3 billion/year from tourism and recreation. What’s more, the natural settings and outdoor opportunities near cities like Boise and Tucson help attract investment and jobs in small business, light industry and technologies.

But forget all that. The 1872 General Mining Law mandates that mining is always the highest priority for our public lands, from the Boise National Forest to the Coronado National Forest. Local rangers may modify, but are not allowed to reject a mining proposal, even when it runs squarely against local sensibilities or modern economic interests.

That evidently made sense in the 1870s, when Col. Custer and Sitting Bull clashed over prospectors’ intrusions into the Black Hills. But those days are done. It’s time to give local communities a voice in determining the future of public lands that offer so much value, far beyond minerals. Even if that means sometimes saying “no.”

Ben Long is an outdoorsman, author and conservationist from Kalispell, Mont.,  who has yet to add the Elegant Trogon to his life list. He is senior program director for Resource Media.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes Land Trust, based in Bend, Oregon, seeks a collaborative and strategic Executive Director to lead us in pursuing our mission: to conserve and care...
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Job Title: Development Manager Supervisor: Senior Director of Development Effective Date: May 17, 2021 Job Status: Full-time (40 hours/week), exempt Location: Within the Colorado Plateau...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Executive Director Reports To: Board of Directors Compensation: $75,000 to $80,000, plus generous benefits and paid leave. Funding for relocation expenses available. Classification:...
  • WATER DIRECTOR
    Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Application review will begin on April 2, 2021 and will continue until the position has been filled....
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected]nnativeseed.com or visit...
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.