Sportsmen Unite Against Uranium Mining Near Grand Canyon

A broad coalition of wildlife conservation and hunting and angling organizations launched a campaign to prevent mining on about 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon.

Protect Your Canyon billboard

“As sportsmen, we’re fairly pragmatic about these things,” said Scott Garlid, conservation director with the Arizona Wildlife Federation. Garlid is one of the spokespeople for Protect Your Canyon, a recently formed alliance of national and regional organizations united by a love of wild spaces.

And, like many of the groups’ members, Garlid has a stake in hunting, fishing, and sporting — activities that don’t usually align with liberal politics.

“We’re not far, far to the left,” he confirmed matter-of-factly.

Still, Garlid and the rest of Protect Your Canyon — including the likes of Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and others — now find themselves rallying to stop Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump administration from green-lighting new mining operations in their northern Arizona backyard.

Specifically, Protect Your Canyon wants Zinke and the president to respect a uranium mining moratorium established by the Obama administration. The ban currently protects about 1 million acres of federal land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. But in May, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, chairman of the Western Congressional Caucus, sent a letter to President Trump urging him to lift the ban and open the area to uranium mining.

Protect Your Canyon: Uranium Mining

Proposed uranium mines near Grand Canyon

Gosar’s letter coincided with a “critical minerals” list released by the U.S. Geological Survey, designed to identify minerals “vital to the nation’s security and economic prosperity.” Uranium was among the mineable minerals listed.

In response to Rep. Gosar and the survey’s findings, Protect Your Canyon this month erected billboards around Phoenix to rally public support. At issue, according to the group, are ecological threats posed by uranium mining to the habitats near Kaibab National Forest.

“The flow of water through fractured rock can go in many different directions,” Dr. David Kreamer, a hydrogeology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said in a video released by Protect Your Canyon. “Anyone, including the mining companies, who claim they know the hydrology below the mines really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

And Greg Yount, owner of the pro-mining Northern Arizona Uranium Project, has said exactly that. Yount claims uranium mining is safer than other mining operations and wouldn’t affect hunters and other outdoor recreationists.

“When the environmentalists say, ‘Oh, well, this mining can pollute the Grand Canyon,’ … it’s like they totally ignore that this is a natural process that’s already happening at a scale that dwarfs what mining would do,” Yount told the Arizona PBS show Cronkite News.

“In any given season, there might be a few rigs drilling out there, but it shouldn’t really affect their hunting.”

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Mining: Secretary Zinke

Still, mine opponents remain unconvinced.

“It may be safer than other mines, but it’s not safe enough,” Garlid said in response to Yount’s comments. “Just look at the history of the cleanups that haven’t been done. If you want to convince me, let’s clean up those other mines first.”

Garlid points to un-remediated mines in the nearby Navajo Nation that he said still pose a risk to natural habitats. According to him, there are still more than 500 mines there that require cleanup. Too often, he said, mining companies don’t follow through on cleanup efforts, and the financial burdens fall on municipalities.

And those dirty mines don’t just impact habitats, Garlid warned — they threaten the local economy.

“We’re talking hundreds or thousands of jobs, which is good,” he said of new mining operations. “But we’re jeopardizing 18,000 outdoor recreation jobs in the area.”

Zinke Grand Canyon
Secretary Zinke on a visit to Grand Canyon National Park in October 2017

Up to now, Secretary Zinke has largely remained mum. And to Protect Your Canyon, that’s a problem. On Monday, Zinke’s spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement, “The secretary has no intention to revisit uranium mining in and around the canyon and has made exactly zero moves to suggest otherwise.”

Further, Swift added that Zinke’s office was “disappointed to see such a tremendous waste of precious conservation dollars,” according to Cronkite News.

But the coalition wants the interior secretary to publicly support the mining ban near the Grand Canyon. And until then, the group will collect signatures and leave the billboards up. They’re even planning a trip to Washington, D.C., to speak with Zinke directly.

“Until we hear directly from Secretary Zinke, we’ll keep pushing,” Garlid affirmed.

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.
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