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WASHINGTON — Citing the Presidential Memorandum signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 26 on tribal consultation and strengthening nation to nation relationships, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has put on hold the transfer of 5,439 acres of high-value conservation land in Arizona to Resolution Copper.

The acres include Chich’il Bildagoteel, known as Oak Flat, which is the heart of several southwest tribal religious and cultural beliefs.

During the last days of the Trump administration, federal officials attempted to speed up the transfer to Resolution Copper that would mine the land. On January 15, 2021, five days before Trump left the presidency, the Tonto National Forest released the Resolution Copper Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) for objection. In the time since these documents were released, the agency and USDA have received significant input from collaborators, partners, and the public through a variety of means.

After a review, the Biden administration’s USDA paused the findings of the Trump administration.

“Today, USDA directed the Forest Service to withdraw the Notice of Availability and rescind the Final Environmental impact Statement and draft Record of Decision. The pre-decisional objection period will be halted as well,” according to a statement issued by the USDA.

The announcement was met with appreciation by the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

“This is the right move by the Department of Agriculture,” said Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. “The Resolution copper mine project will desecrate Chich’il Bildagoteel. As noted in our federal lawsuit, the U.S. Forest Service failed to follow the law in the preparation of a sham final environmental impact statement that was used to justify trading away our sacred land to wealthy foreign mining companies.”

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who shares the House Natural Resources Committee, has for many years highlighted the need for federal tribal consultation before moving forward with the Resolution Copper mining project in central Arizona, today hailed the news that the U.S. Forest Service is withdrawing its final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision issued on Jan. 15 and will conduct a thorough review before proceeding any further with the preparation of new analyses at the site. Grijalva spoke at a March 12, 2020, Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States https://www.google.com/url?q=https://naturalresources.house.gov/hearings/the-irreparable-environmental-and-cultural-impacts-of-the-proposed-resolution-copper-mining-operation&source=gmail&ust=1614719674045000&usg=AFQjCNFy4qb62e2l_bPYeblJftIi_3gW0g">hearing on the issue and has led numerous lawmaker letters to the Trump and Biden administrations urging them to take the step announced today.

“This fight has never been about just one site – it’s been about ending the cycle of ignoring tribal input whenever it suits polluters,” Grijalva said today. “The Trump administration rushed this document out the door as just one more favor to industry, regardless of how legally or scientifically unsupportable it was. The Biden administration is doing the right thing with this reset, and I intend to reintroduce the Save Oak Flat Act in the coming days to make sure this needless controversy is settled on the side of justice once and for all.”

“The Department is taking this step to provide an opportunity for the agency to conduct a thorough review based on significant input received from collaborators, partners, and the public since these documents were released. USDA and the Forest Service also understand that under federal law that the Forest Service has limited discretion related to protection of Oak Flat. Long term protection of the site will likely require an act of Congress. USDA and the Forest Service cannot give a precise length of time for completing the re-initiation of consultation but consultations such as this generally take several months,” the USDA statement continued.

Related: Apache Stronghold Filies Lawsuit in Federal Court to Stop Oak Flat Transfer

U.S. Forest Environmental Impact Statement Released on Friday Allows for Mining at Oak Flat

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Levi Rickert
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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. He can be reached at [email protected]