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For Immediate Release, June 20, 2011

Contact: Randy Serraglio, (520) 784-1504

1 Million Acres of Grand Canyon Watershed Protected From Uranium Mining

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— Interior Secretary Ken Salazar extended interim protections from uranium mining today for Grand Canyon’s 1-million-acre watershed through the end of 2011; the secretary also announced his support for a 20-year mineral withdrawal across the same area. Both protections ban new claims and block new mining on existing, unproven claims.  

The announcement quells fears that a two-year mining prohibition issued by Salazar in July 2009 would expire, opening the door to new mining claims and resulting mine development. Public lands around Grand Canyon National Park have been ground zero for new uranium mining that threatens to industrialize iconic wildlands and permanently pollute aquifers feeding Grand Canyons springs and streams.

“The world would never forgive the permanent pollution of Grand Canyon’s precious aquifers and springs or the industrialization of its surrounding wildlands,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The only sure way to prevent pollution of the Grand Canyon is to prevent uranium mining, and today’s action makes important progress toward that goal.”

Salazar today directed the Bureau of Land Management to designate the withdrawal of the full 1-million-acre watershed from new mining claims as its preferred alternative in its ongoing environmental analysis of the issue, scheduled to be released in the fall.

“This is good news for the Grand Canyon, but we are disappointed that Secretary Salazar continues to show such enthusiasm for the mining of existing claims,” said Serraglio. “We hope the ‘caution, wisdom and science’ cited by the secretary as being so important in managing this precious area will lead to strong decisions to protect it from further pollution by uranium mining.”

Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon region. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation and proposed legislation. Scientists, tribal and local governments, and businesses have voiced opposition to new mining operations. Dozens of new mines threaten to industrialize stunning and often sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers feeding Grand Canyon’s biologically rich springs.

The segregation and withdrawal would prohibit new mining claims and mining on claims without “valid existing rights” to mine. Several claims within the withdrawal area that predate the 2009 segregation order will be grandfathered in; those are still vulnerable to mining. 

In 2009 the Bureau of Land Management allowed mining to resume at the Arizona 1 mine within the withdrawal area and immediately north of Grand Canyon without first updating 1980s-era environmental reviews. The Havasupai Tribe, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Center, Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Trust challenged that mine’s reopening in federal court — one of four lawsuits brought by the Center relating to uranium mining in the region since 2008. That suit is ongoing.

“Grand Canyon and the surrounding areas are some of the most recognized and prized landscapes in the United States. Allowing further uranium mining would cause untold damage and leave future generations asking why we didn’t do more to stop it,” Serraglio said. “That’s why we’ll keep defending the Grand Canyon and working to reform the antiquated 1872 mining law so that federal agencies finally have clear authority to deny mining proposals that threaten irretrievable damage to our public lands.”

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