December 15, 2020
Today, the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), the Federal Government overseers of agency compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), sent a letter to Acting Tonto National Forest Supervisor, Tom Torres, critiquing the Tonto National Forest’s (Tonto or TNF) failure to comply with United States cultural preservation laws. The letter was prompted by a request from the San Carlos Apache Tribe that the Council look into the review process Tonto has used for the proposed Resolution Copper project. The ACHP rebuke also reflected analyses provided in letters from by the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, Archaeology Southwest, and Tom Wright.
The Advisory Council points out numerous examples of the Tonto’s attempts to shortcut and bypass NHPA rules for consultation and lists recommendations for Tonto Forest actions prior to the release of any Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the proposed Resolution Copper mine. Most of these revolve around a heavily criticized 8th version of a Programmatic Agreement (PA) that must be signed to obligate TNF and the mining proponent to protect cultural resources from the proposed Resolution Copper project.
The Tonto has been rushing to release the FEIS before the end of 2020 under pressure from Rio Tinto and BHP (the owners of Resolution Copper) and their supporters, including the Trump Administration’s political appointees overseeing the US Forest Service. The publishing of the FEIS would trigger a 60-day countdown clock in which the Forest Service would be required to turn over the sacred, recreational and ecological haven of Oak Flat to the mining giants.
The ACHP letter asks the Forest Service to do the following before the FEIS is released:
- Provide consulting parties a summary of comments received on version 8 of the PA and a summary of how those comments have been addressed.
- Respond to the ACHP’s review and recommendations.
- Host a final meeting on how the TNF has responded to comments and how it intends to move forward in executing and implementing the PA.
- Create a Regional Advisory Board made up of Indian Tribe representatives to advice Forests in the Region on historical preservation matters.
- Better train Forest Service personnel on cultural preservation procedures and rules using the Resolution Copper process as a cautionary tale.
It could take months to implement these recommendations, satisfy NHPA rules and ACHP overseers, and produce a PA worthy of the area’s unique and invaluable cultural resources. The PA must be signed before the FEIS can be released.
Roger Featherstone, Director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, said of the letter:
“At every step of the NEPA process, we’ve cautioned the Forest Service to follow their laws and regulations and not bow to Resolution Copper and their supporters. At every step, the Forest has let us down. The results of the review by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation shows us just how flawed the Resolution Copper process has been and just how eager Rio Tinto and BHP have been to place their project over the protection of our cultural and ecological heritage. This is yet another reason why Tonto National Forest needs to write an updated and complete Draft Environmental Impact Statement before rushing to judgement.
In light of Rio Tinto and BHP’s cultural transgressions in Australia and other countries, and their public promises to never repeat those mistakes, it is clear that the companies and their allies just don’t care about protecting our heritage.”