Today, Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (R-AZ), House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Interior Chairman Cynthia Lummis (WY-At large) sent letters to Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Sally Jewell, requesting documentation related to the process for listing Oak Flat as a national historic site. An excerpt from the letter is below:
“The Committee is concerned that this designation undermines the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act of 2014. The Act facilitated a land transfer to allow for the development of a copper mine in the area that would create roughly 4,000 new jobs and generate $60 billion for Arizona’s economy. The Administration’s designation appears to be incompatible with that plan. Moreover, the claim that the land should be protected as a sacred Apache Indian site has been most notably disputed by local Apache historian Dale Miles. Mr. Miles recalled that a copper mine shaft was built on the property in 1970 without any claims that the land was sacred.”
The full letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack can be found HERE and the letter to Secretary Sally Jewell can be found HERE.
Environmental groups and mining opponents have been working with the National Park Service to list the Oak Flat Campground as a historical site which would quietly undermine a copper project estimated to create nearly 3,700 jobs and generate $60 billion for Arizona’s economy. Given the repeated lack of detail in the listing notice, it is virtually impossible for the local community who may be affected to participate in the public comment process.
Representatives Gosar and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) requested the Park Service formally withdraw the nomination of “Oak Flat” from consideration for listing as a historic site on three different occasions.
The first letter Representatives Gosar and Kirkpatrick sent pointing out critical flaws with the application and asking for withdrawal of this nomination was sent on June 26, 2015. The letter resulted in the Park Service returning the flawed June nomination to the Forest Service for “some technical corrections”. Click HERE to read the entire first letter.
Many members of the San Carlos Tribe admit the land in question is not sacred. Dale Miles, a member of the San Carlos Tribe and the former tribal historian, stated in a July, 2015 op-ed pointing out that the Oak Flat campground has never been a sacred site: “There has not been a long history of ceremonial or cultural activities such as Sunrise or Holy Ground ceremonies taking place at Oak Flat…the thought of having such a ceremony at Oak Flat, far from the support of relatives, clan members and friends in the San Carlos tribal area is almost unthinkable.”
Oak Flat is a small, poorly-maintained public campground more than 20 miles away from the nearest tribe’s reservation.
On February 4, 2016, The Daily Caller News Foundation featured a report on the second letter Congressman Gosar and Kirkpatrick sent to the Park Service. Click HERE to read more.
More information about the bipartisan Southeast Arizona Land Exchange that will create 3,700 new jobs, generate 60 billion dollars for Arizona’s economy, provide 25% of the United States’ copper supply and be the largest copper mine in North America can be found HERE.
The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, signed into public law in December 2014 is consistent with important tribal cultural protection laws including: the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Further, the Forest Service conducted a comprehensive study in 2010 and released a Finding of No Significant Impact for the exchange stating, “The selected action will not cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historical resources.” It is also worth noting that some of the protesters who currently have a tent and other items on the campground have not paid their permit fees or moved from the site after 14 days of use as the Forest Service requires for other campers.