Policy Requires Proven Grand Canyon Mine Claims


". . .fundamental change in how the U.S. Forest Service does business with mining companies."

The reclassification of nearly a million acres of land around the Grand Canyon to prevent new mining claims comes with a fundamental change in how the U.S. Forest Service does business with mining companies.

Companies that file to do exploratory drilling and other projects on more than 560 square miles of the Kaibab National Forest now must prove they have valid existing rights to their claims. That could include providing evidence that the mineral has been discovered at the surface with sufficient quality and quantity.

That wasn't the case before Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last month blocked any new mining claims on the land for a two-year period. He took the action to slow a flurry of new uranium mining operations planned in the Grand Canyon area while the Interior Department studies whether the land should be permanently withdrawn from mining activity.

Conservationists are worried that new mining will harm the environment around the canyon. Mining companies say they'll do a much better job preventing problems today than in decades past, when uranium mines led to widespread contamination.

Salazar also reclassified 990 square miles under the control of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Unlike the Forest Service, the BLM has discretion in either taking the company's word that its claims are valid or conducting a review, said Jeff Garrett, a BLM geologist in Phoenix.

The change affects as many as 10,000 existing mining claims on federal lands for all types of hard-rock exploration around the Grand Canyon and some 1,100 uranium mining claims within five miles of the canyon.

"Now because of the terms, it might affect companies that were exploring or had a plan or operation and were in the process of determining the economic viability of their mineral deposits but haven't done so yet," said Luke Popovich, vice president of the National Mining Association. "Certainly that could cast a cloud over future investment."

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