Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Joins Department of Interior in Calling for Two-Year ’Time-Out’ from New Mining Claims on Forest Service Land near Grand Canyon National Park
WASHINGTON.- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in deciding to segregate approximately 360,000 acres of Forest Service land near Grand Canyon National Park for two years while the Department evaluates whether to withdraw these lands from new mining claims for an additional 20 years.
“This ’time-out’ will ensure the Department can complete a thorough review of the potential environmental impact of mining this Forest Service land,” said Vilsack. “Our National Forests play an important role in protecting watersheds so that thousands of people have access to clean, healthy water. Over the next two years, scientific experts at USDA will fully research and make a recommendation about the potential impact of mining this land.”
The segregated lands include 360,002 acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service and 633,547 acres managed by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. The lands are within portions of the Grand Canyon watershed next to Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona and contain significant environmental and cultural resources as well as substantial uranium deposits.
Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1.2 million acres on the Colorado Plateau. The park, which draws 4.4 million visitors each year, is home to numerous rare, endemic and specially protected plant and animal species and contains vast archeological resources and sites of spiritual and cultural importance to American Indians. The Colorado River and its tributaries that flow through the watersheds of Grand Canyon National Park supply water to agricultural, industrial, and municipal users, including the cities of Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Neither the segregation nor any withdrawal would prohibit ongoing or future mining exploration or extraction operations on valid pre-existing claims. It is important to recognize that mining done sustainably does have its place on National Forests. Those activities might proceed during segregation and any withdrawal. About 10,600 mining claims are located in the proposed withdrawal area and several current uranium mining operations await State of Arizona environmental permits. Neither the segregation nor the proposed withdrawal would prohibit any other authorized uses on these lands.
A notice published in today’s Federal Register initiates a 90-day public comment period on the proposed withdrawal and segregation. Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, lands proposed for withdrawal are immediately segregated for up to two years during which a decision on the proposed withdrawal may be made.
During the two-year segregation, studies and analyses will be conducted to determine if the lands should be withdrawn to protect the area from new mining claims. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, this process includes participation by the public, tribes, environmental groups, industry, state and local government, as well as other stakeholders.
These efforts will be undertaken under the leadership of the Bureau of Land Management in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Park Service and will be used in support of a final decision on the withdrawal.
By law, the Department can withdraw these lands for a maximum of 20 years. Only Congress can initiate a permanent withdrawal.
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