You have 4 Days to Save 4,400 Acres of the Tonto National Forest

[The following guest blog is written by someone knowledgeable about the subject but who requested anonymity.]

Undeniably, copper mining is a huge part of Arizona’s economy. When mining drops, the state’s economy takes a hit, as it did in 2015. Not to mention all our modern devices, including life-saving medical equipment, that require copper to operate. But that doesn’t mean mining firms shouldn’t be held accountable to environmental standards and it certainly doesn’t mean letting a mining corporation use 4,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest for their tailings facility.

The Back Story

Part of the Tonto National Forest is sitting on one of the largest untapped reserves of copper found in recent history, discovered in 1995. Since then, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has worked hard to hand over public land to private mining interests.

It took McCain seven years and several failed efforts, but in December 2014 McCain succeeded. He got the foreign mining company Resolution Copper the land it wanted by sticking a “land swap” amendment onto a run-of-the-mill, must-pass defense appropriations bill called the National Defense Authorization Act.

Never mind that part of the land in question, Oak Flats, was sacred Apache tribal land. It had been under federal protection since 1955 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower specifically prohibited mining in the area. The tribe has used the land ever since then for several sacred ceremonies under what’s called a multiple-use mandate.

The Department of the Interior, recognizing the historical and anthropological value of the land, renewed the mining ban in 1971.

But by slipping a rider onto a bill that had nothing to do with mining or public lands, McCain handed over sacred Native American land to a foreign company. Unsurprisingly, McCain (joined by Republican state Rep. Paul Gosar), defended the move and even had the temerity to suggest the mine would benefit the San Carlos Apache.

The San Carlos Apache disagree.

Now what?

The mine is clearly going to happen. There’s little to be done about that at this point as thanks to the land swap deal it is going to occur on private land.

Currently, the issue to focus on is the proposed tailings facility, which will grow in phases and eventually take up approximately 4,400 acres of national forest.

What is a tailings facility and why do I care?

Tailings are the part of the rock that has been separated from extracted ore – basically mining waste. When mine operations are on the massive, long-term scale as Resolution’s mine is, it produces a lot of tailings and those tailings have to be put someplace.

In this case, even though Resolution already received a huge swath of public forest land in an unethical, if not illegal, manner, it now wants to put those tailings and all the buildings, roads, utilities, under- and above-ground pipes, associated structures and necessary components on public forest land.

Tailings are separated from ore and then mixed with water into a kind of slurry. That slurry is piped onto an area, usually abutting a mountain. The water from the wet slurry drips down into a lake, and that water is used for more ore extraction.

The tailings themselves result in habitat and vegetation loss; a facility of this size presents far greater issues. It will require a number of outbuildings, laying of long areas of pipe, electrical and other infrastructure installation and, ultimately, the clearing of much forest land. There is also a slight chance that contaminated tailings water could leak into the natural stream bed and pollute the water supply.

What do I do?

There is some good news here. Resolution appears to be at least somewhat open to environmental responsibility (well, within the framework of gouging the earth for copper) and also appears to listen to feedback to a degree.

In fact, right now they are actually looking into alternative locations. A strong showing of public support for non-forest land locations could have some degree of influence on where the tailings get put.

There have already been two “public scoping” meetings, or meetings at which members of the public can voice support for or opposition to proposed projects like this.

However, you can also submit comments online that will go on the record but only until April 5, 2017

This is exactly the same thing as going to a meeting and standing at the podium and having your say.

You can also view the presentations on the proposals and ask questions as well as submit comments.



  1. Cynthia
    April 1, 2017 at 3:03 pm — Reply

    Please don’t do this. Let’s save our sacred lands!

  2. Christina Sampson
    April 1, 2017 at 3:09 pm — Reply

    It’s important to note also that since this is a national forest, you don’t have to be an Arizona resident to comment and your comment will carry equal weight.

  3. Marie Wujek
    April 2, 2017 at 6:36 am — Reply

    Let’s do the right thing and protect our lands! God isn’t making any more and it is up to us to preserve for generations to come!

  4. M. E. R. Marsana
    April 2, 2017 at 6:41 am — Reply

    I stand with the San Carlos Apache.

  5. jane Ryan
    April 2, 2017 at 8:01 am — Reply

    I stand with the San Carlos Apache. This is beautiful forest and scrub land
    that is sacred irreplaceable and needs to be protected. Why should the
    land be sacrificed and left with a huge pit never to be filled in and replanted.
    Please reconsider the huge devastation that will follow the mining operation.

  6. mmz
    April 2, 2017 at 11:02 am — Reply

    What are your thoughts on the land exchange put in place? Initially I was opposed when reading this article but after reading the bill it appears that we are gaining 5,000+ acres of protected land including the San Carlos riparian area. Not to sound callous, but as you said in your article the mining deal is done so in the long run don’t we end up gaining more protected land with this bill? Or is there something I’m missing?

    • CSE
      April 3, 2017 at 9:45 pm — Reply

      Resolution may have received this land in exchange for other land, but it now wants to use the adjacent forest as a dumping ground. It would not even have to pay for the privilege.

  7. Christina Sampson
    April 3, 2017 at 9:35 pm — Reply

    Hi MMZ, Yes, the land exchange does include over 5,000 acres of what are called inholdings on both the Tonto and the Coronado National Forests. And while it’s nice to be able to fill in portions of animal habit, the fact remains that Oak Flat campground, a sacred site actively used by some San Carlos Apache for certain ceremonies and will now be a mile-wide hole in the ground.

    Also, *this* public comment request is for a mine tailings facility that would be adjacent to the land Resolution received in the land swap, so on public forest lands. Tailings of this size will be hundreds of feet tall and require an expansive infrastructure and many roads, public buildings, etc.

    It’s one thing for Resolution to build its mine on the land it received. It’s another for it to use public forest land as its dumping ground for free.

  8. Christina Sampson
    April 3, 2017 at 9:39 pm — Reply

    The tailings facility would place PRIVATE buildings on public land. This blog is asking you to state that you oppose the mine tailings facility being put on the Tonto National Forest. The Forest Service IS examining alternate locations for the tailings facility and by commenting you would be expressing support for that alternative location.

  9. April 5, 2017 at 9:42 pm — Reply

    This is an issue near and dear to my heart. I climb here with friends and my kids. It was the first place I ever put my son and daughter on a rope. If you care about these places get involved with Access Fund. They have been working very hard for a long while to get this the public to take notice.

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