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Know the West

Collaborative conservation


In a July 18 High Country News article, Luther Propst explained the Sonoran Institute's approach to collaborative conservation and referred to the proposed Resolution copper mine near Superior, Arizona as an example of that philosophy ("Beyond the politics of no").  After all, the location of that mine is in a well-established mining district. Luther qualified his support by calling for the "right kind of mitigation" to be employed by Resolution.

The Access Fund, which works to conserve rock-climbing areas and keep them open, does not believe that Resolution's proposal embodies the spirit of collaborative conservation. An enormous amount of mitigation would be required to reach any sort of reasonable balance with recreationists, Native Americans and environmentalists.

We are not an anti-mining organization. Representing the interests of some 2.3 million climbers around the United States, we work to find collaborative solutions that balance the interests of climbers with competing interests such as mining. Our approach to complicated land-use issues is often similar to that of the Sonoran Institute. However, the Access Fund's only viable option is to oppose the current Resolution mining plan.

Resolution plans to obtain ownership of Tonto National Forest land at Oak Flat through a federal legislative land exchange (HR 1904). This land has been specifically protected from mining activity for over 50 years. In the early 1950s, the Eisenhower administration instructed the Tonto Forest Supervisor to select recreation areas for protection that were of high recreational value and that were also likely to have "future conflict with mining." The administration proved prophetic; mining companies have asked the Forest Service numerous times over the years if the mining withdrawal at Oak Flat could be lifted. Each time the Forest Service has denied the request because the area was still heavily used for camping and recreation. Resolution's mining method would lead to massive surface subsidence. This land that has been protected would be completely destroyed.

And lifting the long-standing protections for Oak Flat isn't the only troubling aspect of the Resolution land exchange bill. HR 1904 proposes to completely bypass National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis before conveying the land to Resolution. The language contained in the bill simply states that the land exchange is "in the public interest" and denies the Secretary of Agriculture his normal ability to make a public interest determination based on a proper NEPA analysis.

This bill does not represent good public policy. While we do not dispute the right of Congress to make public interest determinations, we do question whether such a determination should be made without first having access to the very NEPA data on which an informed determination would be based.

Yet another concern is that Oak Flat is an area of great cultural and traditional value to the San Carlos Apaches. HR 1904 does nothing to address the legitimate concerns of the San Carlos tribe, which uses this area for acorn gathering, sunrise ceremonies, sweat lodge events, and other cultural and traditional purposes.

The Access Fund believes that Resolution needs to fundamentally rethink its mining plan to find a solution that is compatible with Oak Flat's other high-value land uses. That kind of compromise--in conjunction with a proper NEPA review--would truly embody the concept of collaborative conservation.

Curt Shannon
Arizona Policy Analyst, Access Fund
Gilbert, Arizona