For Immediate Release, February 9, 2021

Contact:

Randy Serraglio, (520) 784-1504, rserraglio@biologicaldiversity.org

Hundreds of Groups Urge Biden to Protect Oak Flat, Reject Environmental Analysis

Massive Copper Mine Would Destroy Apache Sacred Site in Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz.— More than 200 conservation, Indigenous, religious and business groups urged President Biden today to withdraw the approval of a land exchange that would trade away Oak Flat, an Apache sacred site on the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona, to a mining company.

In the final days of the Trump administration, the U.S. Forest Service issued a rushed, flawed environmental analysis that would allow international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto to destroy Oak Flat with a massive proposed copper mine.

“Trading away this land without proper review and consideration of the vast devastation that would result is a fundamental abdication of the public trust,” the groups said in a letter to Biden. “This land is important to all Americans, but none more so than the Western Apache peoples, generations of whom have used it for ceremony, healing and sustenance across many centuries and continue to do so to this day.”

The land exchange, after failing as a stand-alone bill a dozen times in Congress, was authorized by a midnight rider attached to an unrelated 2015 defense spending bill. The rider mandated that the land exchange be completed no more than 60 days after publication of a final environmental analysis, no matter what its conclusions or how much damage the project would do.

The final environmental analysis was rushed to completion a year ahead of schedule on Jan. 15, which set a 60-day clock ticking for the deadline to complete the land exchange. The groups are asking the Biden administration to withdraw the environmental analysis and take a closer look at the devastating damage the proposed copper mine would do to Oak Flat’s irreplaceable cultural and ecological resources.

“President Biden should withdraw the death sentence Trump imposed on Oak Flat on his way out the door,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oak Flat is far too important to be sacrificed for corruption and corporate profit.”

Oak Flat was protected from mining by President Eisenhower in 1955 because of its outstanding cultural and ecological values, a mining ban that Rio Tinto seeks to evade by obtaining private ownership of the land. The site holds the best set of Apache cultural resources in existence and has for centuries provided Native people with food, medicine, habitation and a sacred place for religious ceremonies that are still conducted there today. It’s a stunningly beautiful area of dramatic rock formations, high biodiversity and popular recreational opportunities, including world-class rock climbing.

Rio Tinto’s Resolution mine would create a subsidence crater up to 1,000 feet deep and two miles wide that will send Oak Flat crumbling into oblivion, forever unstable and off limits to human use. The vast groundwater pumping for the mine would also deplete the regional aquifer and dry up nearby springs and streams, with devastating impacts on wildlife.

Three lawsuits have been filed to overturn the approval and stop the land exchange, by the Apache resistance group Apache Stronghold, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and a coalition of Native American and conservation groups, including the Center.

Site of proposed Resolution Copper mine, Oak Flat, Ariz. Photo credit: Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity
Site of proposed Resolution Copper mine, Oak Flat, Ariz. Photo credit: Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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