Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Bill Passes House, On its Way to Senate

Date: 11/10/2011

On October 26, 2011, the United States House of Representatives voted to pass the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011 which would exchange approximately 2,400 acres of public land for 5,300 acres held by a multi-national mining company for the creation of a massive copper mine. The public land to be exchanged includes the Oak Flat campground, and a popular climbing area with hundreds of existing roped climbing routes and thousands of bouldering problems that for years was home of the historic Phoenix Bouldering Contest. Much of the Oak Flat area was protected from mining through an executive order made during the Eisenhower Administration, but now Resolution Copper Mining (RCM) seeks to take possession of the land through an act of Congress. A spirited debate on the bill in the House of Representatives may be viewed here. The Senate now must introduce and pass a “companion bill” before the exchange is signed into law.

Earlier this year, the Access Fund submitted comments on the bill, H.R. 1904. Because provisions favorable to climbers which were included in past versions of the bill have been removed, new environmental concerns have emerged (namely the omission of a pre-exchange NEPA process), and climbers have yet to complete an agreement with RCM to address the loss of climbing resources, the Access Fund opposes H.R. 1904 while these issues remain unresolved.

The Access Fund and Arizona climbing community have long worked to protect climbing in central Arizona, first through the Friends of Queen Creek, then the Queen Creek Coalition (QCC), and more recently the QCC and the Concerned Climbers of Arizona (CCA). Strategic disagreements in the climbing community split the QCC into two groups: one that retains the QCC name and works to “maximize rock climbing resources in the Queen Creek region of Arizona by maintaining productive relationships with involved companies, land managers and civic leaders” and the CCA who “advocate for continued recreational access to climbing areas that are threatened by development or other forms of encroachment.” Comments on H.R. 1904 from the QCC may be found here. The CCA position on H.R. 1904 is found here.

The Access Fund has not exclusively sided with either of central Arizona’s climbing advocacy groups, but continues to work with each organization, Congress, and RCM directly to advocate for climbing access and the conservation of climbing resources in Arizona.

There are many recent articles which cover the bill in greater detail. RCM has posted a video promoting the mine, which includes an overview of the block cave mining technique and a simulation of the damage that would occur through surface subsidence.

Although both Arizona Senators Kyl and McCain are in favor of the exchange, the controversial bill will face greater opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The Access Fund will continue to monitor the situation, directly engage members of Congress, and send an action alert soliciting climber input when the companion bill is introduced in the U.S. Senate.