WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) accompanied the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and San Carlos Apache tribal leaders on a visit to the Oak Flat site within Tonto National Forest. USFS conducted the site visit in conjunction with a formal tribal consultation session with the San Carlos Apache Tribe about proposed copper mining operations that would irreparably damage the sacred site.
The site visit and tribal consultation session were conducted as part of USFS’ process to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) regarding Resolution Copper’s proposed copper mine near the Oak Flat site. Resolution Copper is owned by BHP and Rio Tinto. If approved, a final EIS would greenlight a land transfer between Tonto National Forest and Resolution Copper, allowing the company’s mining plans to move forward despite strong public opposition, including that of over 40 tribal governments and 150 national and regional organizations.
The current EIS process began after the Biden administration withdrew a final EIS published in the last days of the Trump administration due to inadequate environmental analyses and lack of good faith tribal consultation.
In advance of the site visit and consultation session, Grijalva sent a letter on Feb. 8 to the Biden administration urging adoption of the White House’s agency guidance for using Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the tribal consultation process for Oak Flat.
Advocates attending the site visit explained the traditional and religious significance of Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel, emphasizing the national importance of protecting the holy site. Oak Flat is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP). Tribal citizens compared the destruction of Oak Flat to destroying the Vatican in Rome. Environmentalists argued that the proposed mine would require the withdrawal of substantial groundwater from the already drought-stricken state of Arizona.
Chair Grijalva introduced the Save Oak Flat Act on Mar. 15, 2021, which would permanently protect the Oak Flat area from mining operations. The bill passed out of Committee on Apr. 28, 2021.