Chipping Away at Public Lands

The Next Shoe in the Attack on Public Lands Just Dropped

Are miners with pick axes and shovels about to descend on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in a scene reminiscent of the Wild West gold rush? That scenario may not be too farfetched starting today when a provision in President Trump’s proclamations reducing the monuments’ size goes into effect, opening the land to claims of mining rights and potential sale.

“At 9:00 a.m., eastern standard time, on the date that is 60 days after the date of this proclamation [February 2, 2018], subject to valid existing rights, the provisions of existing withdrawals, and the requirements of applicable law, the public and National Forest System lands excluded from the monument reservation shall be open to:

(1)  entry, location, selection, sale, or other disposition under the public land laws and laws applicable to the U.S. Forest Service;

(2)  disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing; and

(3)  location, entry, and patent under the mining laws

What this all means is that starting now, because of the 1872 General Mining Act, individuals and companies can legally stake a mining claim on up to 20 acres of land that are in the public domain. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), To stake a claim you harken back to the “good ole’ days” and go out to the site being claimed, put posts in the ground or build a pile of rocks, attach a written notice, and pay a small fee. That doesn’t mean that there will be a rush of claims, and these lands won’t begin being mined overnight, but this is the first step in the process for the potential of widespread mining in once protected land. Once a mining claim is made the mining operation must then be developed, a process that involves working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or Forest Service to gain permission. Companies are eager to access these untapped resources, rich in uranium, coal and gas. Widespread operations would negatively impact hiking trails and areas previously accessed by the outdoor community.

This new development is part of a broader threat to monument protections, as we detailed in our earlier blogs (see here and here). Recently, BLM has begun the process of creating new management plans for Bears Ears and Grand-Escalante to decide what other uses to allow in this newly vulnerable land, including selling it off to private owners.

American Hiking Society will continue to advocate for the protection of public lands and provide updates on these troubling developments.

Article by, Tyler Ray, Director of Policy and Advocacy at American Hiking Society

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