Reform the 1872 Mining Law

Posted on: March 20, 2008


Editor's Note: For more information about The 1872 Mining Law and The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007, check out the November 14, 2007 NewsWire.

As human-powered outdoor recreation enthusiasts, we all need metal; from climbing carabiners and bike frames to trekking poles and ski edges. The problem lies with 19th century values and policy guiding 21st century high tech mining technology. The laws adopted in 1872 to govern prospecting with a pick and shovel and to help settle the West before the invention of the light bulb are the same laws in use today. These outdated laws place no regard for the new values and economic future of the west.

Fueled by record-high metal prices, more than 89,000 new claims have been staked in Western states since 2006. These companies pay no royalties on the riches they extract, can patent (i.e. privatize) our land for $5.00 an acre, and pay little in the way of cleanup bonds. Thankfully, this is a problem that can be fixed by adopting a policy that balances responsible hardrock mining with all the other uses of public lands.

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All communities in the West deserve a say in where and how mining is conducted that will affect their lives. But under the 1872 Mining Law, hardrock proposals on public lands trumps all other uses and values, giving the mining industry preferential treatment. Outdoor recreation and environmental quality are no longer the frosting on the cake; they are the cake. It is time to modernize the 1872 Mining Law.

Climbing and Bouldering

Imagine being camped out at your favorite desert climbing destination. Now picture yourself looking over the darkened mesas at the blinking lights of drilling rigs instead of the universe above. This may soon be a reality as there are over 32,000 new uranium claims within a stones throw of legendary climbing venues such as Indian Creek, Paradox Valley and Canyonlands National Park. Only through meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law will climbers have an opportunity to have a say in how the public lands around many of their favorite climbing destinations are valued and subsequently managed.

Winter Sports

Mineral activities often affect recreation by polluting the soils and water but also by allowing roads into classic backcountry ski terrain. Once mining roads are established, often at taxpayer expense, further protection becomes nearly impossible. Roads open up to additional motorized activities year round: further compromising the environment and experience for quiet winter enthusiasts. The Beartooths (MT), Boise National Forest (ID), Sierra Range (CA), and the Colorado high country are just a few of the backcountry ski destinations under intense hardrock mining pressure.

Paddling

Perhaps no other human-powered outdoor recreation is so clearly affected by hardrock mining activities as our treasured whitewater. Already, according to the EPA, over 40-percent of our Western headwaters are contaminated. Even without the additional threats of drought and population growth, our streams and rivers throughout the West deserve, finally, protection from the mining activities and recognition for their recreation value. Iconic desert rivers like the Green, Colorado and San Juan are under considerable pressure from new uranium claims. The rockin' creeks pouring off every mountain range between the Sierra, the Sawtooths and the San Juans are also seeing a significant spike in proposed hardrock mines along with threatened access and continued water quality concerns.

Mountain Biking

Many of today's mountain bikers benefit from the old days of exploratory mining. However, the days of prospecting with a pick and shovel are over. Modern hardrock mining methods threaten the environmental integrity of our public lands like never before. Over 1,100 new uranium claims lie with five miles of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks alone. Other world-class riding communities like the Black Hills, South Dakota and Silver Valley, Idaho have also made the transition to a recreation economy and deserve a voice regarding how hardrock mining is governed.

Hiking

The Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, National Parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, regions of unique biodiversity like Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest, and desert ecosystems such as the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona are among America's most treasured hiking destinations. All of these areas and more are threatened by more than 89,000 new mining claims throughout the West. In a given year, areas like the Siskiyou receive up to 200 Notices of Intent for proposed mines. Unspoiled land, water, wildlife, visual and sound qualities are all part of our unique public lands and only through 1872 Mining Law reform can hikers have a say in how public land is valued against the "highest and best use" luxury afforded hardrock mining activities.

Critical Action Steps: The U.S. Senate is currently debating 1872 Mining Law reform. ACT NOW! Go to this Access Fund link to conveniently create a unique email to your Senators. For more information on potential impacts near your favorite climbing destination in the west go to this link and browse the interactive map showing the tens of thousands of brand new mining claims.

About the Outdoor Alliance

The mission of the Outdoor Alliance is "to ensure the conservation and stewardship of our nation's land and waters through the promotion of sustainable, human-powered recreation." Millions of people love to hike, paddle, climb, ski and mountain bike. We know our land and water first hand, and care deeply about passing our outdoor heritage to future generations. Outdoor Alliance gives these people a voice in Washington, D.C.

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