11/08/2019

Climbers and Tribes Join Forces to Save Oak Flat

Last month, thousands of climbers joined forces with other conservationists and Native American tribes to save Oak Flat (Chi'chil Bildagoteel) outside Phoenix, Arizona. This exceptional area is squarely in the crosshairs of Resolution Copper, a foreign mining company that is set to take ownership of this public land through a shady land exchange deal. 

Climbing advocates protest mining operations at Oak Flat, ancestral lands of Akimel O’odham (Upper Pima) and Hohokam. Photo courtesy of © Michael Schennum

Several Native American tribes consider Oak Flat sacred land, and it is also home to hundreds of sport climbing routes and thousands of bouldering problems. Resolution Copper intends to extract a large copper ore deposit from underneath Oak Flat using a “block caving” technique that would completely consume the surface and all its spiritually significant landmarks and recreational resources, creating a crater over 2 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep.

Climbers and local tribes share a common purpose in this fight, and Access Fund has been working closely with the San Carlos Apache and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) on strategies to oppose the mine. 

Before the Oak Flat mine is allowed to move forward, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and evaluate anticipated impacts of the mining operation on the environment and other values of the land. The USFS released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the mining project this fall, and it is both incomplete and based on faulty information. This NEPA assessment provided advocates with one of the last opportunities to weigh in and oppose this destructive mine—and climbers came forward in force. 

Responding to an urgent action alert from Access Fund, more than 3,500 climbers from across the country submitted letters to the U.S. Forest Service opposing this destructive mine at Oak Flat.

If this mine moves forward, it would be the largest loss of climbing resources ever on America’s public lands. Climbers submitted letters to the US Forest Service pointing out flaws in the Environmental Impact Statement and asked them to put the brakes on this project due to unacceptable impacts to Native American rights, recreational resources, and the environment.

This proposed mine would not only destroy the recreational value of Oak Flat, it will trample on the indigenous rights of the Native American tribes who regard Oak Flat as a sacred area. The mine will also consume between 15,000 and 40,000 acre-feet of water per year in an area plagued by drought and lead to large-scale environmental pollution.

Access Fund has been fighting to save Oak Flat for over a decade, working alongside a broad coalition of tribes, conservation groups, recreation groups, and local citizens (learn more about the ongoing fight for Oak Flat). 

Stay tuned to Access Fund news for updates on the fight to save Oak Flat.