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Stop Poison Pill that would destroy Oak Flat

Senator Harry Reid has assembled a draft omnibus public lands bill that he would like to introduce and pass yet this Congress in the waning days of the current lame duck session.

Upper Gaan CanyonUpper Gaan Canyon

Senator Reid’s efforts are laudable except for one major flaw with the bill:  apparently in an effort to gain support for the bill from Senator McCain and other Republicans, he has inserted a major “poison pill” into the bill.  It contains the Oak Flat Land Exchange (S 409 – the result of a compromise deal between Senator McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Bingaman (D-NM).  The Oak Flat land exchange is an extremely controversial bill that would result in the destruction of not only an incredible and unique desert ecosystem, but the religious freedom of Native American Tribes.

The shame of inserting this poison pill is not only the chance that something destructive would pass, but that it would drag down the entire bill and many worthwhile pieces of legislation in the process.

It is also possible that Senator Reid may attempt to add public lands legislation to one of the continuing budget resolutions that are necessary to keep the government running.  Please Ask Senator Reid and other Senators to keep the Oak Flat land exchange out of ANY piece of legislation at the end of this Congressional session.

 Please look at the talking points below and send a brief email to Senator Reid asking him to remove the Oak Flat land exchange from his draft omnibus bill.  Also, please take a look at the lengthy draft and if you find your own bit of heaven in the bill that deserves protection, please write your Senator to ask Senator Reid to remove the poison pill to give the bill a better chance to passage.

Roger Featherstone
Director, Arizona Mining Reform Coalition

Contact Senator Reid at:

528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-3542 / Fax: 202-224-7327

Phone calls are best at there is not enough time to mail a letter.  Or you can use the following contact for Senator Reid:

For contact numbers for additional Senators go to or call the Capital switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected directly with your Senator.


Apache LeapApache Leap



Rio Tinto and BHP - Billiton have created a wholly owned subsidiary that is proposing to mine a copper/molybdenum/silver/gold vein more than 

7,000 feet below sea level east of Superior, Arizona.  As a first step, Rio Tinto is currently shopping around a land exchange bill S 409 that would end an executive order banning mining from Oak Flat Campground and privatize more than 2,400 acres of public land.

Concerned citizens are worried about the loss of Oak Flat Campground, a very popular recreation area.  Birders, climbers, campers, canyoneers, bikers, and hikers enjoy the area throughout the year, all of whom would be greatly harmed if these lan


ds were forever taken from public access.  Native Americans have traditionally used the area for cultural, spiritual purposes, and for sustenance.  The Oak Flat/Apache Leap/Gaan Canyon ecosystem are of critical importance to the religious freedom of Native American Tribes.  The land exchange would include Apache Leap, a cliff where more than 80 Apache warriors chose to leap to their deaths rather than surrender to the US Calvary.

All Arizona Indian tribes oppose the Land Exchange. The National Congress of American Indians passed a unanimous resolution in June of 2009 opposing all legislation that would allow mining at Oak Flat. In addition, the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition in Superior, AZ is opposed to the land exchange and has recently testified in Washington, DC against S. 409.

This bill, if added to a public lands or water package in the last days of the 102nd Congress would add a poison pill to the package and make it that much more difficult to pass.  One of the reasons given for including to the land exchange in a package like this is to give an incentive for McCain and Kyle to support the package.  McCain and Kyle would not cross over to vote for a public lands bill no matter what was included to appease them.

Talking Points:

  • Oak Flat and the surrounding area is of critical importance to the religious freedom of Native American Tribes and (should be) protected by treaty and the US Government’s trust responsibility to the Tribes.
  • Oak Flat Campground (760 acres) was set aside from mining for a public campground and recreation area by President Eisenhower by executive order.  The order was reinforced by President Nixon.  Overturning the Executive order for the benefit of foreign mining companies sets a dangerous precedent for public lands protection.
  • Recent sitings of endangered ocelots reinforce the unique ecological value of Oak Flat and the surround area and to privatize the area would take away substantial protections for endangered species
  • The area is irreplaceable for recreation, especially for bird watching and rock climbing, both of which bring a steady stream of sustainable income to the area.
  • By privatizing the land, Rio Tinto and BHP sidestep the normal process for approving a mine that all Nevada mines must undergo. The bill would essentially put approval of the mine in the hands of Congress and not our federal land management agencies, where it belongs.
  • Water is already in short supply in the area and the mine would use as much water annually as the City of Tempe (160,000 people). 
  • By Rio Tinto’s most optimistic projections, mine construction would not begin for more than a decade and the technology for mining the deposit will not exist for at least a decade, giving plenty of time to debate fully the merits of the project.  There is no need for attaching the bill to a package of more critical public lands protection efforts.
  • The bill is being touted as a jobs package, but without a mining plan of operations, which is not called for in the legislation, nor would be written for at least 3 years (if at all), job numbers are highly speculative and would not occur for years, therefore would do nothing to help the economy for years to come.
Poison Pill factsheet.pdf86.71 KB
Poison Pill letter to Congress 12-9-10.pdf50.09 KB


Land Exchange Parcels

Some folks in Washington, DC, feel that the McCain - Bingaman compromise that resulted in the latest version of S 409 "fixed" the environmental and religious freedom problems with the land exchange. 

This is simply not true.  For a detailed explanation of problems with the compromise bill look that this fact sheet.

Maricopa Audubon Society visited all the parcels now included in the land exchange and found that the exchange parcels do not come close to matching what would be lost if the US Congress gave away Oak Flat campground and the surrounding area.  You can look at the Maricopa Audubon Society document here.

More Letters!

Letters from:

Historic Preservation Organizations

Conservation and Recreation Organizations

Religious and Civil Rights Organizations

Arizona Mining Reform Coalition letter to Senator Reid

Our letter was sent to Senator Reid this evening.

Letters Opposing the Poison Pill From Arizona Tribes

Please follow the links for copies of letters opposing adding the Oak Flat land exchange to other bills from the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, which represents all Arizona Tribes, and the National Congress of American Indians, which represents all Tribes and Native Villages in the US.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe submitted a more detailed letter opposing inclusion of the Oak Flat land exchange on an omnibus public lands bill on December 10th.

Despite what the land exchange proponents would have you believe, opposition to the land exchange and mine is stronger than ever!

Dr. Radut | simplenews