Last week, the House passed HR 1904, the Southeastern Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, by a vote of 235 to 186. The bill would take a campground and sites sacred to area tribes out of public hands and turn it over foreign-owned mining companies.
A subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHP – Billiton is proposing to mine a rich copper vein on public and private lands east of Superior, Arizona. Because the proposed mine would most likely destroy the area in question, the company, called Resolution Copper, is pushing for legislation to privatize the Oak Flat Campground, which has been withdrawn from mining since the 1950’s, and surrounding public lands in the Tonto National Forest.
The proposed mining area is not only prized by birders, campers, climbers and hikers, it is also considered sacred to the tribes in the area. The San Carlos Apache tribe is actively opposed to the land exchange and potential mine because of the destructive impacts it would have on the surrounding ecosystem and traditional use lands. The Society for American Archeology is also opposed to the land exchange because of the potential damage that could be caused to “priceless historic and cultural resources.”
This legislation still has a long way to go before it becomes law. Earthworks and our partners will be working to ensure that this ill-conceived bill does not pass the Senate. This legislation has been proposed, and defeated, in other Congresses, and we will make sure the Senate chooses the long-term benefits of recreation and religious freedom over a short-term gain for a multinational mining company.