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Scrapbook: Sierra Club Closes In On Huge Grand Canyon Mining Victory

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June 20, 2011

Sierra Club Closes In On Huge Grand Canyon Mining Victory

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

In a major victory for the Sierra Club, on June 20 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, below, announced his intention to protect 1 million acres surrounding Grand Canyon National Park from further mining claims. This is the same area—and the full amount—included in Rep. Raul Grijlava's (D-AZ) Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, introduced in previous sessions of Congress but never enacted.


Salazar said that expanded uranium mining around the canyon—which the Sierra Club has been fighting—would threaten water supplies, air quality, wildlife, desert vegetation, and "priceless scenery." That's National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis behind Salazar, above.

"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," says Sandy Bahr, below, Director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, which has been spearheading the Club's efforts on this fight.


Below, a Sierra Club rally outside a BLM/National Park Service public meeting in Flagstaff this March, where Sierra Club and tribal activists spoke. "We had people dress as radioactive wildlife and parade through the streets since the meeting was on Mardi Gras," says Alicyn Gitlin, an organizer with the Club's Grand Canyon Protection Campaign.

Photo by James Q Martin

With Secretary Salazar's announcement, the federal government extended for six months a moratorium on new uranium mining claims in the million-acre buffer zone around the national park. A two-year moratorium on new uranium claims in the buffer zone was set to expire in July. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is ongoing, and now the BLM, which handles mineral withdrawals on both their land and national forest lands in the area, will have until December to complete the EIS. That's BLM Director Bob Abbey, below, speaking at the June 20 event.


Salazar announced that he is directing the BLM to select the full 1 million acres as their preferred alternative, and to extend the ban on mineral withdrawals for 20 years. "Twenty years is the most they can do administratively," says Bahr. "Grijalva's bill would make it permanent."


That's Grijalva above with Secretary Salazar, and below with Flagstaff Mayor Sarah Presler.


There are more than 3,000 uranium mining claims in the plateaus surrounding the Grand Canyon. Developing these claims would industrialize regionally sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat, and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers feeding the canyon's biologically rich springs. Below, tribal activists gather to hear Secretary Salazar speak.

The Sierra Club has been working on mining issues surrounding the Grand Canyon since the 1980s. "In the last couple of years, as the uranium prices climbed higher and the number of claims grew, we knew that it was important to act now to protect those lands," Bahr says. Below, Sierra Club and tribal activists at the joint BLM/NPS hearing in Flagstaff this March.

Photo by James Q Martin

The Club has partnered with Grand Canyon Trust, the Center for Biological Diversity, and northern Arizona tribes to promote the ban on mineral withdrawals. "We've organized around a series of public hearings where we helped turn out hundreds of people, and around Arizona Department of Environmental Quality meetings where we spoke out against weak groundwater permits for four proposed uranium mines," Bahr says.

Photo by James Q Martin

Above, Havasupai tribal elders at the Flagstaff public hearing this spring. Below, Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project activist Emily Nelson dressed as a radioactive wolf at the hearing.

Photo by James Q Martin

The Sierra Club helped generate thousands of comments in both the scoping phase and later on the draft EIS for mineral withdrawals surrounding the Grand Canyon. "We've supported county and city resolutions, worked with state legislators to submit letters in support, and sent at least 20 action alerts related to this issue over the last two years—probably more," Bahr says.

Bahr gives a special shout-out to Grand Canyon Chapter Conservation Chair Don Steuter, Sierra Club intern Cynthia Pardo, below, and Club organizers Stacey Hamburg and Alicyn Gitlin. "All of them have devoted many hours to this issue and to working with the communities and our tribal and conservation partners to help the administration recognize that there really is only one Grand Canyon," Bahr says.

Photo by James Q Martin

"I'm absolutely thrilled with Secretary Salazar's announcement," says Gitlin. "His speech was extremely eloquent. He said, 'all of us, by the decisions we make in our short time here, can alter the grandeur of this place.' I think that really captures the conflict between short-term decision-making and the long-term planning and protection that the canyon deserves."

Photo by James Q Martin

Salazar made strong statements about protecting the watershed, honoring sacred sites and preserving our natural heritage as Teddy Roosevelt advised. He also noted that protecting the Grand Canyon protected jobs in the valuable tourism industry. His remarks were was followed by similar statements by the heads of National Park Service, BLM, USGS, and the Forest Service. Salazar said 300,000 public comments had been received on this issue, including from water districts downstream.

"It was rewarding to hear so many of the Sierra Club's deepest concerns echoed by the speakers today," says Sierra Club Senior Regional Organizer Rob Smith. "This is a great tribute to the Sierra Club's multi-year campaign to protect this region and specifically to challenge uranium mining through the work of the chapter and our environmental justice and Resilient Habitats campaigns. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune also weighed in with Interior at a key moment. Hiking caps off, though, to the Grand Canyon Chapter for consistently leading the charge and providing key leadership for the broad coalition which formed around this issue."

Learn more about the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Protection Campaign and its work to protect Resilient Habitats.


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