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Commission Joins Call for New Mining Ban at Canyon

April 4, 2011

PHOENIX, Ariz. - The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has joined the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona, Coconino County and several Native American tribes in backing a proposed ban on new mines around the Grand Canyon for the next 20 years. Game and Fish spokesman Jim Paxon says commissioners are concerned about the potential effects of mining on wildlife habitat in the area.

"There's antelope habitat, there's deer and elk. And we're looking at habitat fragmentation from vehicle use, roads and degradation to the habitat."

A U.S. Interior Department proposal would suspend new mining claims and exploration on just over 1 million acres adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest. The period to comment on the proposal has now been extended until May 4.

Paxon says Game and Fish commissioners are concerned with the effects of new mining on wildlife habitat, but do not support shutting down mines with pre-existing claims.

"I understand that there are 11 mining claims that are already out there. In no way are they seeking to stop those 11 valid claims from being worked and mined."

Paxon says those claims will be required to get federal approval for their plans to handle hazardous mine waste and tailings. The industry maintains modern mining techniques prevent environmental damage.

Older uranium mines near the Grand Canyon have already contributed pollution to streams flowing into the Colorado River, according to Jim Stipe, chair of Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited.

"Horn Creek has been polluted with uranium mining waste. Kanab Creek has been and the National Park Service actually issues warnings to people hiking certain trails in the Grand Canyon."

Stipe says it makes no economic sense to jeopardize the permanent resource that is the national park for the limited benefits of mining.

"The Grand Canyon is an economic engine that today produces about $700 million annually in revenue for Arizona. If you have uranium mining, it's a transient benefit. You get a few jobs. And by a few, I mean a very few."

There are currently more than 3,000 inactive uranium mining claims in the Grand Canyon area.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ