In the Phoenix New Times story, Canyon Mine Faces Accusations of Environmental Racism by Navajos, Sierra Club (March 21, 2017), the vice president for marketing and corporate development at Energy Fuels Nuclear (USA) Inc., who owns Canyon Mine, had a few interesting things to say. Unfortunately, he put forward no evidence behind his statements, and we have photos and documents to back up ours.
1.) Water being trucked from Canyon Mine has elevated levels of uranium, and possibly other toxic chemicals too. The Phoenix New Times article reported:
…a spokesman for Energy Fuels previously told the Arizona Daily Sun that the water being trucked through the Navajo Nation has three times the amount of dissolved uranium than is considered “safe” to drink. And in a November report to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the company noted that the water contains 30 times the recommended level of arsenic.
But now Curtis Moore, vice president for marketing and corporate development at Energy Fuels, says that the water is not contaminated. “The excess water we are managing is relatively clean, and contains only trace amounts of natural uranium,” he wrote in an e-mailed response.
“In fact, the water we are trucking offsite either meets – or comes very close to meeting – EPA drinking water standards for dissolved uranium.”
FACT: Energy Fuels Nuclear (USA) Inc. told the Arizona Daily Sun that the water contained 90 micrograms per liter, three times the drinking water “standard” of 30 micrograms per liter set by the EPA. This level of uranium contamination was confirmed in a conversation between Sierra Club and the Kaibab National Forest on March 17, 2017. This level is lower than the amount that Energy Fuels Nuclear (USA) Inc. reported to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in its “General Aquifer Protection Permit Annual Report for 2016”, when they reported 130 micrograms per liter of uranium (over four times the drinking water standard) and 292 micrograms per liter of arsenic (over 29 times the drinking water standard for arsenic) in water taken from the shaft of Canyon Mine on November 9, 2016.
2.) Contaminated water is being sprayed in the air – and radioactive mist is drifting into the Kaibab National Forest.
Making matters even worse, the Sierra Club says, Energy Fuels is now spraying some of the water from the mine into the air in an attempt to get it to evaporate. Photos captured by Sierra Club and Haul No! volunteers appear to show radioactive mist drifting into the Kaibab National Forest, which surrounds the mine…
Curtis Moore of Energy Fuels disputed the environmental group’s claims.
“We are not blowing water into the forest, as the Sierra Club claims,” he wrote in his e-mailed response.
“We have employed some commonly utilized enhanced evaporation machines that creates a mist over the pond to speed evaporation rates, which we shutdown during high-wind days to avoid the potential of the mist of this relatively clean water from crossing our fence-line.”
FACT: Here’s a picture taken at Canyon Mine on March 12, 2017, outside the perimeter fence of Canyon Mine, on a day when the average wind speed was only 4mph at the nearby Grand Canyon Airport, with gusts of 20 to 30 mph.
Aaaaaand, here’s another one:
Sure looks to me like the toxic mist is hitting the forest…
3.) Trucks moving uranium-laced water through the Navajo and Ute Nations are mislabelled or poorly marked.
FACT: This photo shows a truck arriving at Canyon Mine’s front gate to pick up a load of water headed for the White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah. The placard says “1268” which is a marking indicating the truck is hauling petroleum products. Nothing indicates the presence of uranium in the truck’s contents.
Facts. Nothing but facts here.
Please let us know what you think.
U.S. Court of Appeals to Hear Back-to-Back Cases on Uranium Mining Threats to the Grand Canyon Region, Thursday Dec. 15 in San Francisco
San Francisco — The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco will hear oral arguments Thursday, December 15 on two key cases involving uranium mining on public lands near Grand Canyon National Park.
In the first case, Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio, the Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club challenge the United States Forest Service’s decision to allow Energy Fuels Resources to reopen the Canyon uranium mine, which was initially approved in the 1980s and had been closed since 1992. The federal agency permitted this “zombie” mine to reopen without analyzing the mine’s environmental impacts in light of changed circumstances in the intervening quarter-century.
The Canyon Mine is located on the Kaibab National Forest, a few miles south of Grand Canyon National Park, and is within a one million acre area that was withdrawn from mining in 2012 due to concerns about uranium mining’s environmental and cultural threats to the Grand Canyon watershed.
Richard Hughes of Rothstein Donatelli LLP will argue on behalf of the Havasupai Tribe; Neil Levine of Grand Canyon Trust will argue on behalf of conservation groups.
The second case, National Mining Association v. Jewell, involves mining and uranium industries’ challenges to the Interior Department’s 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon.
The ban was requested in 2008 by Arizona’s governor, local governments, American Indian tribes, recreationists, and conservation groups concerned about a uranium mining boom’s impact on groundwater, cultural resources, and the iconic landscapes surrounding the Grand Canyon. It was issued by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona upheld the ban in two rulings, one in 2013 (decision here) and the other in 2014 (decision here), and the mining interests appealed.
The nonprofit law firm, Earthjustice, will represent the Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and National Parks Conservation Association in defending the ban. Department of Justice attorneys will also defend the Interior Department’s decision.
What: Arguments in Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio and National Mining Association v. Jewell before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
Where: Courtroom 4, Room 260
James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse
95 Seventh St.
San Francisco, Calif.
When: Approximately 9:30 a.m. PST, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016
# # # # #
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, September 30, 2016
FLAGSTAFF, AZ — Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick (AZ-1) today announced her support of the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, signing on as a co-sponsor to the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act. Kirkpatrick joins a long list of those speaking out for a monument designation, including more than 20 area Tribal Nations, more than 400 local businesses, and local and national leaders.
“I applaud Rep. Kirkpatrick for standing with many people in Arizona and throughout the country who want to safeguard these lands from new uranium mines,” said Celia Barotz, Vice-Mayor of Flagstaff.
The proposal enjoys strong support in the state, with 4 in 5 Arizonans supporting protecting the public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon as a national monument– support reflected nationwide with 82% of people in favor of the proposal. Across the country more than half a million people have joined the call for action by President Obama.
“What’s good for the environment is also good for our economy. People travel from around the world to see an untouched Grand Canyon, not uranium mining operations,” said Ash Patel, president and CEO of Southwest Hospitality Management, LLC and past chairman of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. “Protecting Grand Canyon for future generations is dear to my heart. The step Rep. Kirkpatrick took today brings us one step closer to ensuring this natural beauty stays in its more rare form.”
Speak up at Uranium Mine Public Hearings
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is issuing new air quality permits to three uranium mines within 20 miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Two mines are preparing to open for the first time: Canyon Mine south of Grand Canyon and EZ Mine north of Grand Canyon. One mine is on “standby” and not currently producing ore: Arizona 1 Mine north of Grand Canyon. The Pinenut Mine, also north of Grand Canyon, is preparing for “reclamation” and is not being required to have an air quality permit.
ATTEND A PUBLIC HEARING:
Monday, August 29 6pm
Fredonia High School Gymnasium
221 E. Hortt St.
|Tuesday, August 30 1pm-3pm
Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites
|Tuesday, August 30 6 pm
Sinagua Middle School Auditorium Mini A
3950 E. Butler Ave.
SUBMIT A WRITTEN COMMENT:
Written comments are due August 30. More information and link to submit comments at https://www.azdeq.gov/PN/EnergyFuelsResources
Here are some talking points to use when preparing your comments. Choose points you feel confortable talking about, and personalize with your own reasons for opposing these mines. If you have questions or want help preparing for the hearing, contact Alicyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 774-6514.
- Deny these permits. These mines are all located in Grand Canyon’s watershed and threaten the water, soil, and air of the Grand Canyon ecoregion.
- It is ADEQ’s responsibility to protect the air and water resources of this state, and to enforce the Clean Air Act and protect the citizens from pollution.
- Uranium dust is most dangerous when ingested or inhaled. Once inside the human body, it can damage the lungs, kidneys, bones, or cause birth defects. Trucks will only be covered with tarps and can spread dust along roadways. They can also pick up contamination from the ground at the mine and shed it as they travel.
- Ore trucks should be completely sealed – not just covered with a secure tarp.
- 10-12 trucks per day will move through Valle, Williams, Flagstaff, Cameron, Tuba City, and much of the Navajo Nation on their way to a mill in Blanding, UT; then, empty trucks will return along the same path. Tell ADEQ how the risks associated with these mines affects your ability to enjoy your property and to feel safe on your community’s roadways and public lands. Tell them about your fear of inhaling dust or receiving a dose of radiation while sharing the roads with these vehicles. Make your testimony personal.
- Contamination was found around the closed and reclaimed Pigeon and Hermit mines north of Grand Canyon, and soils near roads were also contaminated. Roads near the 1979 Church Rock, NM uranium mining disaster showed contamination near haul roads. There must be dust sampling along all haul roads, and communities should be prepared with emergency response plans in case of an accident causing an ore spill.
- Uranium and arsenic have been consistently detected at elevated levels in the soils surrounding previously mined areas in northern Arizona.
- Red Butte, adjacent to Canyon Mine, is a Traditional Cultural Property that is significant to the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, and Hualapai tribes.
- The Plan of Operations for Canyon Mine is over 30 years old and should be revised before air permits for it are issued.
- The EZ Mine has had no federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, or National Historic Preservation Act. ADEQ should wait for these processes to be complete and before issuing an air permit.
- Require a permit for and monitoring of the Pinenut Mine (Permit #62876) until all radioactive material has been removed and no contamination or radiation can be detected for at least a year.
- The permittee, Energy Fuels, is responsible for monitoring dust and emissions, and self-reporting emissions that exceed legal limits. They will also self report deviations from permit requirements. An independent third party should be responsible for monitoring and reporting problems.
- The amount of water required to suppress dust will be large in comparison to the amount of groundwater available in the region. That groundwater is important to maintain vital seeps and springs that humans and wildlife depend on.
- Radon emissions (radon-222) limitations will be calculated as a function of the number of pounds of material processed, instead of having a hard limit on the amount of radon released. ADEQ should limit the total amount of radon that the mine is allowed to release per hour. Ore processing should not be allowed to occur at a rate that causes emissions to exceed the limit.
- Soil and radiation monitoring outside the fence will be 100 feet from the fence. Sampling should also occur closer to the fence to catch problems before they spread that far.
- Soil sampling will only happen once per year. It should happen at least quarterly. Gamma radiation will be monitored quarterly. Outside independent monitors should perform these activities.
- We know that soil contamination has occurred near other areas where ore and mined rock have been able to stand at uranium mines. ADEQ shouldn’t wait until contamination is found before ordering the mine to implement measures to protect the ore piles. As a condition of this permit, the mine should have to: construct wind barriers, storage silos, or a three-sided walled enclosures to protect ore piles; or, piles should be covered with tarp, plastic, or other material that is regularly checked for tears and maintained as necessary to prevent holes and abrasions.
State of Arizona Asked to Reject Permit Renewals for Uranium Mines Near Grand Canyon National Park http://www.sierraclub.org/arizona/blog/2016/08/state-arizona-asked-reject-permit-renewals-for-uranium-mines-near-grand-canyon
Join Area Tribes, Local Electeds,
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Contact: Carletta Tilousi, email@example.com, (480) 296-3984
Celia Barotz, firstname.lastname@example.org, (928) 853-7295
Sarah Ponticello, email@example.com, (831) 998-2585
WASHINGTON,D.C.– Today groups announced the delivery of more than 550,000 petition signatures and comments urging President Obama to designate the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. The supporters join a long list of those speaking out for the monument designation, including more than 20 area Tribal Nations, nearly 100 businesses, outdoor recreation and conservation groups, and local and national elected leaders. The sheer number of signatures and comments is a demonstration of the growing movement calling on President Obama to take action to protect the public lands around Grand Canyon.
Avaaz, CREDO, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment Arizona, Grand Canyon Trust, League of Conservation Voters, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society were among the groups participating in the delivery.
“At the national, state and local level, the American people stand behind this effort and believe in its purpose,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. “Conserving Native American history and culture, protecting the environment and guaranteeing public access to these lands in perpetuity are each important goals. Creating the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument meets each of those goals and more. I firmly believe this administration hears the voice of the people, and I look forward to working with President Obama to protect this land once and for all.”
“The Havasupai and tribes living near the Grand Canyon need the support of all citizens residing in the United States to support the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act,” said Carletta Tilousi, Havasupai Tribal council member. “Our goal is to protect the Grand Canyon from international uranium mining companies. The uranium companies have contaminated enough of our waters and lands. We need to protect what is left of the Grand Canyon by working together and protect the Canyon for all peoples to enjoy peace and tranquility of god’s land.”
“Protection of the Grand Canyon is most important to the Hopi Tribe. As stewards of the land we value and appreciate the public support for the preservation of this special place that is culturally and spiritual significant to the Hopi people,” said Herman Honanie, Hopi Tribal Chairman. “Not only has Hopi always paid homage to the Grand Canyon, it has often been referred to as one of the ‘Great Wonders of the World’. So it ought to be considered as such and so proclaiming it a national monument is in order. Further, President Theodore Roosevelt visited and viewed the Grand Canyon in 1903; he was taken by its grandeur, and stated, ‘Leave as it is.’ Today, we need to heed his words as well as those who want to see the Grand Canyon area preserved in its current state.”
Honanie continued, “We still need the public’s help to let President Obama know to designate the Grand Canyon as America’s next national monument. As the ‘Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument,’ this will ensure that this spiritual place is protected for future generations.”
“The Grand Canyon is a culturally significant area which sustains life for many tribal people and cultures,” said Shan Lewis, President, Inter Tribal Association of Arizona and Vice Chairman, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. “It is encouraging to see the outpouring of support from across all walks of life for the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act. The Act will provide for the future sustainability of this living, national treasure as well as the cultures and people that call the Grand Canyon home.”
Recognizing both the threats to the area and its cultural, natural, and economic importance, local city and county officials too have echoed the tribal leadership to safeguard the heritage of the Greater Grand Canyon area.
“The Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument proposal represents a unique opportunity to serve multiple objectives- protecting the incredible natural and cultural assets surrounding the Grand Canyon, supporting our regional economies, continuing critical forest restoration initiatives and guaranteeing multiple uses activities like hunting, ranching and traditional food gathering,” said Coconino County District 1 Supervisor Art Babbott. “District 1 encompasses much of the southern portion of the proposed monument and I strongly support the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. This proposal, which balances conservation and existing uses, stands in sharp contrast to efforts to dispose of our irreplaceable public lands to the very wealthy and multinational mining interests whose number one priority is radically expanding uranium mining in and around the Grand Canyon.”
“I stand strongly with the more than half a million Americans, including 80 percent of Arizona’s registered voters, Flagstaff area business owners, and Arizona state and local elected officials who support the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument,” said Flagstaff Vice-Mayor Celia Barotz. “I urge President Obama to fulfill the vision of Theodore Roosevelt when he designated the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908.”
New Polling Confirms Strong Support for Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, Public Lands
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, January 11, 2016
PHOENIX, AZ– At an event with former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project today released the results from its 2016 Conservation in the West poll. The findings clearly illustrate the importance of public lands to people living in the West. Within Arizona, the poll found strong support (73%) for a proposal to designate the public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon as a Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. Further, the findings reveal a desire by Arizonans for future presidents to continue the country’s conservation legacy by protecting existing public lands as national monuments (84% support). Bolstering this opinion is the belief by 73% of Arizonans that national public lands, including national monuments, help the economy.
Late last year Congressman Grijalva and tribal leaders from across Northern Arizona announced support for a Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, reflecting the long history and deep cultural roots of the region.
In response, members of the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage Coalition issued the following statements.
“The Greater Grand Canyon is crucial habitat for California condors, mountain lions, and a host of other wildlife,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “Designation of the area as a new national monument would protect and restore safe passageways for mule deer and other wildlife from Grand Canyon National Park to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.”
“At every opportunity, residents of Arizona have expressed strong support for permanent protection for the greater Grand Canyon region – now it’s time for action,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We stand with the public and tribal communities in calling on President Obama to permanently protect this precious landscape.”
“It is not surprising that Arizonans are strongly supportive of safeguarding public lands around Grand Canyon,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Protecting the communities, wildlands and wildlife in and around Grand Canyon from uranium mining has long been a priority for people across the state and throughout the country. A national monument is an important next step to safeguard this valuable region.”
Learn more about the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument at www.greatergrandcanyon.org.
TAKE ACTION HERE TO PROTECT LANDS AROUND GRAND CANYON AS A NEW NATIONAL MONUMENT.
The recent spill of 3 million gallons of mine waste into the Animas and San Juan Rivers has been shocking – but it is a symptom of a larger problem, not a fresh new issue.
Tens of thousands of abandoned mines await cleanup in the upper Colorado River and Animas headwaters, and hundreds of abandoned uranium mines are scattered across the Navajo Nation, surrounding the San Juan, Little Colorado, and Colorado Rivers. The outdated Mining Act of 1872 does little to hold the companies accountable that created the waste and manage the mine holdings.
Meanwhile, fish in the San Juan and Animas Rivers have been in trouble for decades. It is important that people educate themselves before choosing to eat fish out of the San Juan – and highly problematic that some of our least privileged citizens are the most likely to subsistence fish from the San Juan, and to irrigate with its polluted waters.
There are several areas of the San Juan and Animas Rivers that are contaminated with uranium mining and milling waste. Fish in the San Juan have had extremely high levels of lesions infected with bacteria and parasites that are most likely caused by contaminants such as PAH’s that derive from oil and gas drilling. There is a large amount of agricultural runoff, and also a suite of contaminants that derive from coal power plant smoke stacks. There are extremely high levels of mercury in fish throughout the watershed, and the Animas has long contained a dead zone and contamination from uranium and gold mining. In the past 10 years, fish have been rapidly dying in the Animas headwaters because of the contaminants trickling out of this mine complex -hence the push to create a Superfund site (successfully fought by the town of Silverton) and the attempt by EPA to contain the mine leakage. The rivers have needed to be cleaned up for decades, and the recent spill is just one more awakening call – but not the sole source of the problem.
Here are some studies of contaminants in fish in the San Juan:
And this from an article published in the Washington Post:
“According to the Herald, three of the four fish species in the Upper Animas water basin (which includes Cement Creek and drains into the Animas River) disappeared between 2005 and 2010. Five years after that, the river was completely devoid of fish.
Insects and bird species have also fared poorly. And tests of the water flowing into Bakers Bridge, about three dozen miles south of Silverton, found that it carried concentrations of zinc toxic to animals. U.S. Geological Survey Scientists told the paper that the area was the largest untreated drainage site in the state.”
Fish taken out of the Colorado River/Lake Powell have similar contaminants. Please realize that there is no requirement to notify the public about any of this. Mercury is the only contaminant that you (the public) must be notified about. Hopefully this spill triggers a big change, because it’s been too easy to brush this under the rug before now.
What can you do? We are all anxiously watching this pollution move downstream, and we all feel mostly helpless. There is not a lot that any of us can do right now. But we can try to ensure that the future doesn’t repeat the past by changing the mining regulations. Sign our petition to hold mining companies accountable for their messes. Support the creation of Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, which would prevent the development of new uranium mines on the plateaus surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon already has four waterways that are unsuitable for drinking and bathing because of contamination from abandoned uranium mines.
Thank you for caring.
EPA response information and water sampling data from upstream of Durango.
A map of oil and gas wells surrounding the San Juan River in part of New Mexico. Remember, this only displays a small stretch of the San Juan. From these wells, we might expect contamination to seep slowly, rather than a big dramatic spill.
A link to an interview that features an informed discussion and a good description of what is being found in the polluted mess actively moving downstream.
A High Country News article that discusses the history of contamination in and around the Animas.
An Daily Kos article that discusses the history of abandoned mines and why this area wasn’t declared a Superfund site.
Timely study results from USGS about agricultural and atmospheric contamination affecting Grand Canyon’s fish.
A petition to change the mining regulations to prevent this type of problem in the future.
A petition to create a Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, which would prevent the development of new uranium mines on the plateaus surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.
On behalf of Sierra Club, Robert Tohe, Sierra Club Organizing Representative in New Mexico, released the following statement:
“Our thoughts are with the families in Colorado and New Mexico who now have to worry about whether their drinking water is clean or their jobs are threatened because of this needless disaster. The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse. As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 30, 2015
Phoenix, AZ– The Grand Canyon Watershed Coalition today praised actions by Arizona congressional leaders calling for permanent protection of the area north and south of Grand Canyon. In a letter to President Obama, Representatives Raul Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ruben Gallego stressed the natural and economic importance of the watershed and the serious threats it faces from uranium mining and logging.
“These representatives speak on behalf of the residents of Arizona and the American public who overwhelmingly support protection of the Grand Canyon watershed,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their bold leadership on this issue highlights the critical role this region serves in sustaining imperiled wildlife, clean drinking water and a unique cultural heritage for future generations.”
“Designation of the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument would finally secure full protection for this great American treasure, fulfilling Theodore Roosevelt’s century-old vision of scenery, solitude, and safe haven, safe passage for the splendid wildlife diversity of the Kaibab Plateau’s ancient forests, wetlands, and meadows,” said Kelly Burke, executive director of Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.
The Grand Canyon Watershed is home to California condors, mountain lions, and a host of other wildlife–some found nowhere else in the world. The proposed national monument would create a safe passageway for mule deer and other wildlife from Grand Canyon National Park to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
“Designation of the Grand Canyon Watershed as a new national monument would provide a significant priority wildlife corridor connection with adjacent corridors in the 5,000-mile-long Western Wildway,” said Kim Vacariu of the Wildlands Network.
National monument designation would also permanently protect the area and its waters from additional damaging uranium mining. In an area where communities are already living with the toxic legacy of uranium mining, the health effects, water contamination and expensive clean up accompanying plans for new mines cannot be ignored.
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke up to protect Grand Canyon’s watershed from uranium mining and the Obama administration responded by enacting a 20-year mining ban,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “By establishing a national monument, the President can further those protections which are quickly ticking away. Sierra Club appreciates members of Arizona’s congressional delegation speaking up for Grand Canyon and the long-term protection of the waters, wildlife, and forests.”
“We hope President Obama will take this monumental step to permanently protect the Grand Canyon Watershed. Arizonans from all walks of life support protecting the Grand Canyon region, especially when it comes to keeping our drinking water clean. Arizona’s congressional leaders are right to call on the president to protect this special place,” said Bret Fanshaw of Environment Arizona.
Court Upholds Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Ban: Havasupai Tribe, conservation coalition celebrate key win for protecting water, wildlife, and sacred lands
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 30, 2014
Court Upholds Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Ban
Havasupai Tribe, conservation coalition celebrate key win for protecting water, wildlife, and sacred lands
PHOENIX, Ariz.— Arizona’s Havasupai Tribe and a coalition of conservation groups are praising Judge David Campbell’s decision today to uphold the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims across one million acres of public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon. The court ruled that the decision complied with federal environmental laws and that it was not too large, as plaintiffs had argued. At stake is protecting the aquifers and streams that feed the Colorado River and Grand Canyon from toxic uranium mining waste and depletion.
The Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association had intervened in the lawsuit filed by mining and uranium-industry trade associations and uranium prospector Gregory Yount in U.S. District Court in Arizona. The tribe and groups helped to defend Interior’s decision to protect Grand Canyon’s springs and creeks, wildlife and vistas from new toxic uranium-mining pollution. The groups and tribe were represented by public-interest law firms Earthjustice and Western Mining Action Project.
“The Havasupai support the withdrawal of the lands from mining for the protection of our homes and our water. The ruling today by Judge Campbell recognizes the unique and important resources on the lands south of Grand Canyon that are our aboriginal homelands and within the watershed that feeds our springs and flows into our canyon home,” said Havasupai Chairman Rex Tilousi.
“The lands surrounding Grand Canyon are full of natural beauty,” said Ted Zukoski, an Earthjustice staff attorney who helped represent the groups in the lawsuit. “The life-giving waters and deer, elk, condors, and other wildlife found there deserve protection from the toxic pollution and industrialization threatened by large-scale uranium mining. That is why it was critical to defend these lands from this self-serving attack by the uranium industry.”
In January 2012, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued the 20-year ban that prohibits new mining claims and mine development on existing claims without valid permits. The mining industry lawsuit asserted that the Interior Department’s exhaustive, 700-page evaluation of environmental impacts was inadequate.
“The court’s ruling affirms conclusions by five federal agencies, including scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey,” said Grand Canyon Trust’s Roger Clark. “Uranium mining poses unacceptable risks to Grand Canyon’s water, wildlife, and people. It should be permanently banned from our region.”
Uranium pollution already plagues Grand Canyon and surrounding area. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation, and proposed legislation. Because dozens of new mines threaten to industrialize iconic and sacred natural areas, destroy wildlife habitat, and pollute or deplete aquifers, scientists, tribal and local governments, and businesses have all voiced support for the protections enacted by Interior.
Judge David G. Campbell of the U.S. District Court for Arizona summarized his ruling dismissing all uranium mining industry claims by stating that the Secretary of the Interior had the authority to “err on the side of caution in protecting a national treasure – Grand Canyon National Park.”
“This decision to uphold the limits on mining is great news for Grand Canyon National Park and the greater Grand Canyon region, as well as the many visitors, businesses and organizations, local governments and Native American tribes who care about the park and the surrounding public lands,” said Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter director. “We will continue to do all we can do to ensure that uranium mines are not allowed to contaminate the groundwater and threaten streams and drinking water. This decision helps with that enormously.”
One of the great symbols of the American West, Grand Canyon was first protected as a national monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and is surrounded by millions of additional acres of public lands that include wilderness areas, two national monuments, lands designated to protect endangered species and cultural resources, and old-growth ponderosa pine forests. The canyon area is also home to the Havasupai, Kaibab Band of Paiutes, Hualapai and Navajo tribes and has been designated a “World Heritage” site. The greater Grand Canyon region attracts about five million tourists and recreationists per year.
“This decision confirms what the American people already knew — that protection of this critical watershed from uranium mining is a no-brainer. It’s just sound science and responsible management,” said Katherine Davis, a public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Grand Canyon gives us an unparalleled opportunity to explore and understand our cultural and, and we have to protect that.”
Interior’s study of the mining time-out showed that without a withdrawal in place, 26 new uranium mines and 700 uranium exploration projects would be developed, resulting in more than 1,300 acres of surface disturbance and the consumption of 316 million gallons of water. Under the ban, existing mine operations are projected to have about one-tenth of the surface impacts and one-third the water usage over a 20-year period. If new uranium mining were allowed, uranium levels in some springs could rise to twice the level of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards and aquifers could be severely depleted, endangering public health and wildlife, and compromising the values of the tribes who consider the springs sacred.
Water utilities in Arizona, California and Nevada have expressed serious concerns about possible contamination of the Colorado River if uranium mining is permitted around the Grand Canyon and the potential devastating effect it could have on the 25 million people in their states that rely on water from the Colorado River for drinking and agriculture.
“After an extensive review process and substantial public participation, Secretary Salazar made a strong, affirmative decision to protect one of the world’s most enduring landscapes and the sustained health of indigenous communities that live within the watershed of Grand Canyon,” said Kevin Dahl of the National Parks Conservation Association. “This effort to compromise that appropriate decision, had it succeeded, would have put all of us at risk.”
The uranium mining companies have 60 days to appeal Judge Campbell’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and are likely to do so, given their past statements.
“If the mining companies do appeal, we’ll be there to defend the Secretary’s – and Judge Campbell’s – prudent decisions,” said Zukoski.
The Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) – what’s it all mean??
In 2012, Flagstaff voters decided to change the way that forest thinning treatments are funded by approving a $10 million city bond to pay for the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project. After watching the Schultz Fire burn a large swath on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks in 2010, followed by intense flooding, Flagstaff citizens decided something needed to be done to prevent a similar fate for the Rio de Flag watershed to the west.
Yes, the public – that’s you! – is paying, and you get to tell the Forest Service what you want.
Much of the treatment will occur on Mount Elden and Dry Lake Hills, within Flagstaff’s beloved Peaks viewshed and a popular outdoor recreation area. These areas are not just beautiful places to play; they are also home to threatened Mexican spotted owls and large predators such as mountain lions and black bears. They contain numerous ephemeral lakes and springs, as well as archaeological sites and lush old growth forests. Even the Arizona Daily Sun, which argued that “halfway measures won’t work if flooding is to be forestalled,” turned around two weeks later to suggest that one of its treasured spots be given “a wide berth by any industrial loggers.”
So, what exactly is being proposed and what does it all mean?
Well, this project will occur in pretty complicated landscapes (that’s what makes them so special). I’m going to try to break down some of the major things to be concerned about.
First off, you should understand that the Forest Service just released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the public (that’s you) has until August 18 to comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You don’t have to be an expert to comment, nor do you have to read every document on the website. You simply have to care about the Forest and have something to say.
Read the information below and then email email@example.com before August 18th to tell the Forest Service what you want them to do. Please refer to the talking points at the bottom of this post and adapt them as you choose.
There are four options being proposed. You can support or oppose a whole option or part of an option, or you can just tell the Forest Service about a place or a type of forest that you care about, or an issue that concerns you.
These are the four options proposed by the Forest Service:
1) No action (this is something the Forest Service is required to consider, for comparison purposes: what are the risks and benefits if we do nothing?)
2) A mix of treatments that emphasizes cable logging. (This is what it sounds like. Parallel cables are strung across steep slopes, and everything along the cable is demolished and dragged out of the way. See Figures 1, 2, 3, and 5 below.)
3) A mix of treatments that emphasizes helicopter logging (yes, that means that logs get stacked on the mountain and helicopters carry them away) and other steep-slope machinery but uses no cables.
4) A “minimal treatment” that avoids treating the steepest slopes and, therefore, has no cable or helicopter logging or other steep-slope machinery.
Let’s start by talking about viewshed.
I attended one of the Forest Service public meetings and was assured that cable logging leaves a temporary scar that would heal in just a few years. Really? I asked if there was any place where I could tour a cable-logged area in Arizona. No. How about New Mexico. Ummm…no. Anywhere in the arid Southwest? No. The Forest Service staff could not supply me with a single example.
I put a call out on Facebook and received numerous reports of an area of the White Mountains that nobody assigned to working on FWPP seemed to know about. I don’t know what year it was logged, but, as you can see below, the scars resemble a tree plantation and don’t significantly change during 15 years of imagery. This is evidence that cable logging will fundamentally change the nature of the forest on Mount Elden.
Figure 1 Cable logging remains visible for decades.
Does the cable-logged area look like habitat? It looks pretty industrial to me.
OK, but this will help to reduce fire risk, right??
Well, let’s look at how this cable-logged area fared during the Wallow Fire of 2011.
Instead of breaking up the fire, the fire appears to have moved along the cable cut areas (see Figures 2 and 3, below). I can’t say if this is normal or not – but you should ask the Forest Service to stick to proven methods for treating forests to reduce fire risks, such as thinning smaller trees and the “ladder” fuels that transfer ground fires to the forest canopy (Allen et al. 2002). If you notice, the largest patches of live trees remaining after the fire are in swaths between the cuts. Local forest experts aren’t sure why this is – could be that the open forest structure allowed soils to dry out, or maybe fire-carrying weeds such as cheatgrass grew in the openings. Or, the fire might have just moved through the steepest slopes, regardless of whether they were treated. Maybe the largest, most fire-resistant trees were removed, leaving the small trees to burn.
Research shows that larger trees are more fire resilient (Agee and Skinner 2005, Keyser et al. 2006). (Although, the Forest Service keeps assuring me that removing large trees allows smaller trees to grow and become big. They say that they need to remove large trees to encourage the future growth of large trees. I say, if you want to have big trees, then leave big trees behind and only cut the small trees. But I’m not a forester.) It’s hard to say what happened in these cable-logged plots. All we can say is that the cable logging did not prevent fire spread, and, in this case, many (but not all) trees within the cuts died.
Below, you can see the cuts during and after the fire. These pictures are more zoomed out than the last images. I included an older black-and-white image so you can see exactly where the cable cuts are. Figure 2 shows an area before, during, and after fire. Figure 3 shows the same area at three different scales, so you can see where live trees remain a year after the fire. There are some live trees within the cuts, but most live trees are in between the cuts.
Figure 2 The Wallow Fire, active during middle image, burned right through these cable-logged areas. Live forest remains in untreated areas.
Figure 3 Large patches of forest remain alive after the fire – in untreated areas.
OK, so we’ve determined that cable logging industrializes the landscape and doesn’t necessarily increase fire protection. The next question is, will it stop flooding?
Well, I don’t know. Nobody knows. In fact, it could increase flood risk and soil erosion in the years after treatment. The Forest Service doesn’t know either. When it prepared this draft plan, it didn’t model the potential for increased runoff, erosion, and flooding after treatment and before new groundcover has had a chance to establish. It only modeled the potential for runoff after different fire intensities, with the prediction that thinning would reduce fire intensity. But if it removes all vegetation in straight lines up the steepest slopes all over the watershed, it is very possible that water and soil will move downhill.
In fact, an experiment in the Beaver Creek watershed in central Arizona, where researchers cut down parallel strips of trees and thinned in between (similar to what’s proposed in FWPP), found that water flow will increase for 3–4 years after the treatment and the effects might remain for up to 10 years if the cut is extremely aggressive (Baker Jr. 2010). Other researchers found that the effects could be more severe in higher elevations (Gottfried 1991, Zou et al. 2010).
Currently, the Forest Service is only modelling the potential for runoff if a fire occurs with or without thinning treatments, with the prediction that a fire will be less severe if treatments are more aggressive. It is possible to model the temporary increase in runoff after trees are removed, and the Forest Service has been experimenting with this for almost 100 years (Bosch and Hewlett 1982, Zou et al. 2010). The Forest Service should model the flooding it might cause, before it decides how to implement this project.
The effects of increasing flood risk might be temporary, but, if our goal is to reduce flooding, let’s make sure we choose an action plan that actually does that. Intermediate thinning might achieve our goals better than cable logging.
Figure 4 Let’s not accidentally do this to ourselves or our neighbors. (Photo credit Emily Renn)
OK, so we’re pretty sure cable logging will not stop fire, at least not for the long term, and we’re pretty sure it will carry a flood risk. So, where is the Forest Service proposing to convert our forests into industrialized rows of trees? The cables are drawn as blue, green, or black parallel lines in the map below. You can see they will cover a lot of the landscape.
Figure 5 Cable logging proposed on Mount Elden and Dry Lake Hills.
This map also shows temporary roads, which can invite recreational use of the downhill paths if they are not properly rehabilitated and obscured after treatment. The Forest Service admits to having quite a problem with unauthorized downhill cyclists creating their own routes, and the timing of this project will coincide with a major recreation project on Mount Elden and Dry Lake Hills. What will be the effects of the two projects together? That is a great question for the Forest Service….
Alright, we’ve heard what’s wrong. What can we support in the FWPP proposal?
There are definitely some things to support in this project, and some new things to ask for. First and foremost is a proposed ban on campfires in the area to be treated. Many of Flagstaff’s residents have been asking for a campfire ban in the entire Coconino National Forest during the annual dry season. Because the Forest Service has not been amenable to that suggestion, a year-round ban in this high stakes area is a good start.
We encourage an approach similar to Alternative 4 in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. That approach would focus on treating shallower and less erodible slopes. The goal should be to return natural processes to the area, including the fast-moving, low-intensity fires that ponderosa pine forests naturally support and the occasional small but high-intensity fire that mixed conifer forests are adapted to (see Allen et al. 2002). Alternative 4 also protects threatened Mexican spotted owls because the other alternatives require all snags (standing dead trees) to be removed from 267–391 acres of Mexican spotted owl habitat. The cable-logging alternative (Alternative 2) would require the removal of 206 trees greater than 24” in diameter from Mexican spotted owl habitat and the removal of 132 trees larger than 18” in diameter from cable corridors. Alternative 4 avoids all of those impacts.
Because Flagstaff residents are paying for this, you might also want to know the predicted costs for each alternative. Alternative 2 (cable logging) will cost $7.3 million; Alternative 3 (helicopter logging) will cost $8.5 million; and Alternative 4 (minimal treatment) will cost $4.1 million.
You can comment on FWPP until August 18 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more info here. Please refer to the talking points below and adapt them as you choose.
Suggested talking points:
1) The U.S. Forest Service should make every attempt to protect the integrity, ecology, and viewsheds of the areas to be treated under FWPP. Alternative 4 best achieves these goals.
2) Support a campfire closure in areas to be treated under FWPP.
3) Support an approach similar to Alternative 4, with a goal of returning frequent low-intensity fires to the treatment areas. Stick to proven methods for treating forests to control fire, such as clearing out smaller trees and the “ladder” fuels that transfer ground fires to the forest canopy.
4) The US Forest Service should research and investigate the following prior to making a decision:
- Consider previous cable-logging projects that have occurred in the arid Southwest and the effects of those projects before deciding whether cable logging is appropriate in these locations. For example, how long do effects on viewshed last? What are the implications for habitat and soils? Do the treatments change the way fire moves through the landscape?
- Consider the potential for increased runoff, erosion, and flooding after treatment and before new groundcover has had a chance to establish. The Forest Service should model the potential for increased runoff that will result from removal of trees and understory as part of this project. Currently, it is only modelling the potential for runoff if a fire occurs with or without thinning treatments – that kind of analysis will not predict the effects of treatment if no fire occurs.
- Consider safety issues that may arise from logging adjacent to roads and on steep slopes. For example, could the potential for rock slides be increased?
- Consider the cumulative effects of this project and the Mt. Elden – Dry Lake Hills Recreation Project.
- Consider closing the upper part of Mt. Elden Road to all but administrative use to protect fragile soils from excessive recreational use after treatment. The Forest Service has not been able to prevent cyclists from creating new trails through sensitive habitats and archaeological sites. This project will open the forests and will increase the erosive potential of soils on steep slopes. The Forest Service must protect those soils post-treatment. The Forest Service should also delay decisions and implementation for the Mt. Elden – Dry Lake Hills Recreation Project until the full effects of FWPP are understood. Also, Mount Elden Lookout Road is prone to rockslides, including one that crushed a 27-year-old man last year. Limiting access might help to keep the road in a better condition for those who need to use it regularly to access infrastructure on the mountain. (Rumor has it that communication tower staff would like the road closed partway up to protect their safety.)
References:Agee, J.K., and C.N. Skinner. 2005. Basic principles of forest fuel reduction treatments. Forest Ecology and Management. 211:83-96. Baker Jr., M. B. (1986), Effects of Ponderosa Pine Treatments on Water Yield in Arizona, Water Resour. Res., 22(1), 67–73, doi: 10.1029/WR022i001p00067.
Bosch, J.M. and J.D. Hewlett. 1982. A review of catchment experiments to determine the effect of vegetation changes on water yield and evapotranspiration. Journal of Hydrology 55:3-23.
Craig D. Allen, Melissa Savage, Donald A. Falk, Kieran F. Suckling, Thomas W. Swetnam, Todd Schulke, Peter B. Stacey, Penelope Morgan, Martos Hoffman, and Jon T. Klingel. 2002. ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION OF SOUTHWESTERN PONDEROSA PINE ECOSYSTEMS: A BROAD PERSPECTIVE. Ecological Applications 12:1418–1433. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/1051-0761(2002)012%5B1418:EROSPP%5D2.0.CO;2
Gottfried, G. J. (1991), Moderate timber harvesting increases water yields from an Arizona mixed conifer watershed. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 27: 537–546. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.1991.tb01454.x
Keyser, T.L., F.W. Smith, L.B. Lentile, and W.D. Shepperd. 2006. Modeling postfire mortality of Ponderosa pine following a mixed-severity wildfire in the Black Hills: the role of tree morphology and direct fire effects. Forest Science 52:530-539.
Zou, C.B., P.F. Ffolliott, and M. Wine. 2010. Streamflow responses to vegetation manipulations along a gradient of precipitation in the Colorado River Basin. Forest Ecology and Management 259:1268-1276.