For Immediate Release (July 25, 2007)
Chris Hunt (TU): 208-406-9106
Aislinn Maestas (NWF): 202-797-6624
Katie McKalip (TRCP): 406-240-9262
Nation's Sportsmen Urge Congress to Reform 1872 Mining Law
Sensible changes urged to protect clean water and habitat and end threat of public land giveaways
Sportsmen United for Sensible Mining, a new coalition of the nation's hunters and anglers, today called on Congress to protect clean water and wildlife by modernizing the General Mining Law of 1872. According to the coalition, bringing the law into modern times would restore balance to a policy that still favors large-scale mining over all other uses of western public lands.
Acclaimed outdoor television host and columnist Tony Dean helped kick-off the campaign, spearheaded by Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Dean will testify tomorrow before a House of Representatives subcommittee considering a major overhaul of the 135-year-old law.
“Sportsmen lose when our public lands are polluted by mining and taxpayers are left to clean up toxic messes,” said Dean. “I saw firsthand the damage that gold mining did to trout streams in the Black Hills of South Dakota where I live. We need a modern law that will keep mine pollution out of our streams and rivers and ensure good stewardship of vital game habitat.”
More than 270 million acres of western public lands—an area nearly twice the size of Texas—are currently open to hardrock mining under the 1872 Mining Law, which was enacted as a way to speed the settlement and development of the West.
The West is now settled, and times are far different than they were following the Civil War. Sportsmen are especially concerned about mining because national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands provide some of the finest hunting and angling opportunities in the nation. Public lands contain more than 50 percent of the nation’s blue-ribbon trout streams and are strongholds for imperiled trout and salmon populations. Public lands also harbor the majority of habitat critical for elk. Hunting
and fishing in western states generates tens of billions in revenues to local economies.
“I grew up hunting and fishing and spent my entire career as a public lands manager,” said Gene Kolkman, a retired BLM district manager from Ely, Nevada, who participated in the campaign launch. “I know from personal experience how the 1872 Mining Law handcuffs land managers trying to balance the public’s interests in clean water and wildlife with mining.”
Across the West, both old and new mines are still poisoning streams and drinking water with acids and toxics that may persist for decades or even centuries. According to EPA, the headwaters of 40 percent of western waterways are contaminated by mine pollution.
According to the coalition, hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines have yet to be cleaned up and the costs could run at least as high as $32 billion. For example, pollution from the Summitville Mine in Colorado, which sits on public lands sold to mining companies long ago, poisoned a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River, killing aquatic life, when a tailings dam overflowed in the mid-1990s. The Canadian owner, Galactic Resources, went bankrupt, leaving taxpayers with more than $200 million in cleanup costs.
In 2005, sportsmen’s groups rallied to defeat a controversial proposal by then House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo that would have expanded a provision in the 1872 Mining Law allowing the sale or “patenting” of public lands to mining companies for $5.00 or $2.50 an acre. The measure would have lifted an annual moratorium on the public lands giveaway to mining companies and made it easier for speculators to take advantage of it. An estimated 3.5 million acres of public lands—an area nearly the size of Connecticut—has been sold to private interests since the law was enacted.
Sportsmen United for Sensible Mining will outline their concerns in a joint letter to Congress to be released Thursday.
Specifically, the campaign is calling on Congress to:
- Assess a royalty on minerals taken from public lands. The fee would help fund abandoned mine cleanup. The mining industry does not pay a royalty now.
- Better protect of clean water, fish and wildlife from mining’s adverse impacts.
- Provide incentives to enable so-called “Good Samaritans” to clean up abandoned mines.
- Prohibit the sale or “patenting” of public lands claimed by mining companies.
For more information, a copy of the sportsmen’s letter to Congress and Tony Dean’s testimony, visit: www.sensiblemining.org.