SAA concerned about proposed Arizona land swap

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

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The Society for American Archaeology continues to monitor legislative actions, especially at the Federal level. In mid-June, the Society submitted a letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests regarding S. 409, Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2009, also known as the Apache Leap Conveyance bill.

The letter says that the bill:

would direct the Department of Agriculture to accept certain parcels of non-federal land in five counties in Arizona from Resolution Copper in exchange for federal land in Pinal County, Arizona, including Apache Leap and the Oak Flat Campground area, the latter in which mining activity is prohibited. It is our understanding that under the legislation Resolution Copper could then conduct mineral exploration and “block-cave” extraction activities beneath the surface of the Oak Flat and Apache Leap areas.

These lands include known archaeological sites and resources, as well as places significant to several Native American tribes. Additional, undiscovered sites are also likely to be present.

Block-cave mining is a technique where underground extraction is conducted such that surface materials “fall in” because the materials below them have been removed (essentially creating “sinkholes”). This kind of action would destroy and disturb archaeological remains.

The archaeological resources are now protected by numerous federal statutes, including the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and others. Transferral of the land would remove those protections, and has raised the concern of the SAA.

Thus, SAA recommends increased protections and that tribal stakeholders be allowed to continue traditional acorn gathering unimpeded by mineral extraction and extraction.

S. 409 is sponsored by Senator Jon Kyle of Arizona, and co-sponsored by John McCain, also of Arizona. Both Senators are Republicans.

Download a copy of the SAA’s letter from this webpage. It’s called “SAA Testimony on S. 409, the Apache Leap Conveyance bill,” and is dated June 17, 2009.

The SAA was founded in 1934 and has over 7000 members from all fifty states, and nations around the world.

Information about Subcommittee action on the bill is here. Information on the Senate bill is here. The related House bill is H.R. 2509, with four co-sponsors, all Arizona Representatives. Read about the House bill here.