Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument

Mining companies want to look for uranium near the Grand Canyon:

But hunters and anglers think the risks outweigh the benefits. After billions of dollars already required for cleanup of radioactive pollution from past uranium mines, now is not the time to put our water and land resources at risk.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – A sign warns hikers away from an old mine on Horseshoe Mesa due to radiation concerns.

Thank Your Elected Leaders:

“Thank the Biden Administration for designating Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument”

Celebrate the creation of our newest national monument in the Grand Canyon region that preserves hunting and fishing heritage and protects the watershed from future uranium mining.

The risk

Uranium mining around the Grand Canyon poses a serious risk to wildlife and to the people who live in the region as well as those who enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking and camping there. Water in this area is scarce and small seeps and streams that are not visibly connected on the surface provide conduits for contamination to locations far from the original source. The risk of contamination to the region’s lands and waters is high. Roads and utilities built and used by the mines will disrupt migration paths of big game animals and affect their reproductive success.

The rationale

The rationale for the original 2012 moratorium was to allow mining impacts to be studied and best practices to be developed to mitigate the impacts on water, habitat, and wildlife. Since that time, nothing has been done to clean up the more than 500 contaminated mines in the region, new instances of uranium contamination from existing mines has occurred, and funding for the originally intended studies has been cut. At the same time, foreign owned mining interests continue to lobby the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce to re-open the area to new mining. It’s time to stop gambling with the future of the Grand Canyon region. The new national monument limits future mining and it will not affect other uses including hunting, fishing, timber harvest and grazing. As sportsmen we value multi-use of our public lands and insist on practical and science-based approaches to managing our natural resources. The new monument meets that test and we strongly support it.

The responsibility

Hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts come from a broad range of backgrounds across the political spectrum. One thing that ties us all together, a truly American ideal, is the conservation of wildlife and wild-places. Wildlife, fisheries, and the water that supports us are not partisan issues. A mineral withdrawal is a responsible approach based on science and with a vision for the future. Uranium mining near the Grand Canyon is unacceptable given the best science available and the known risks to our natural resources, the economy of Northern Arizona, and the communities that depend on Colorado River water.

America’s Finest

Protecting our canyon permanently

“We’ve seen the impacts from irresponsible mining not just in Arizona, but across the West. Why would we put one of our most iconic places at risk of being irreparably harmed? These lands are all connected. Fish and wildlife don’t recognize boundaries, nor does water and one bad decision can impact them all. Arizonans are unquestionably in favor of doing more to protect this landscape and sportsmen are ready to help make this legislation a reality.” 

Nathan Rees, Arizona Field Coordinator, Trout Unlimited

Uranium mining has a long history in Arizona.

1893: Orphan mine opens, incentivized by the new hard rock mining laws

Orphan mine is located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and was staked by Dan Hogan in 1893. Incentivized by the Hard Rock mining law of 1872, which allows the mine owners to not pay royalties on the produced material. Originally this was mined for copper, but uranium was discovered in the tailings in 1953 and was then mined for uranium till 1972. Approximately ten acres of land on the rim surrounding this site is radiologically contaminated (in excess of 0.057 mR/hour).

1919: Grand Canyon National park is created

The Grand Canyon had a long and arduous road to becoming a national park, beginning in the 1880s with several failed congressional bills. After making multiple visits to the area, Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument in 1908. The bill to grant national park status to the area was passed in 1919 and signed by then-President Woodrow Wilson.

1942: Manhattan Project starts

Prior to the formal creation of the Manhattan Project, atomic research was ongoing at several universities around the United States. After learning that Germany discovered nuclear fission, FDR formed the Uranium Committee. A group of top military and scientific experts to determine the feasibility of a nuclear chain reaction. This creates our first drive for uranium exploration and production in the United States.

1947: Cold War starts

With the Cold War starting in 1947 and nuclear bombs being manufactured at an increasing rate the demand for domestically sourced uranium sky-rockets to $55 dollars per pound. Mines attempted to meet the ever-growing demand for the radioactive element during the Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union. More than 1,000 mines were established across northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation reservation, with almost 4 million tons of uranium being mined there from 1944-1989.

1958: First nuclear power plant is opened

On May 26, 1958 the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States, ShippingportAtomic Power Station, was opened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as part of his Atoms for Peace program. This continued to increase the demand for uranium prompting more exploration throughout the west and driving the price per pound to $80, an all time high.

1986: Kanab north, Canyon, and Pinenut mine opened

All three mines are opened in 1986 despite the declining price of uranium. During this period the Cold War was cooling down and ultimately ended in 1991. Now instead of building nuclear bombs we were decommissioning them. The decommissioned high-grade uranium from the bombs was bought by the power companies. This increased supply and drove prices down to roughly $12 per pound.

2010: Contaminated water and radioactive dust

United States Geological Survey team discovers 2 million gallons of water that seeped into the mine shaft of Pinenut uranium mine, which sits on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. This mine had been sitting idle for two decades before the discovery. Findings like this reinforce scientist’s theory of how complex and how little we understand the water table and aquifers in this region. Meanwhile, surveys around Kanab North uranium mine revealed radioactive dust had blew and dispersed from the mine site into the surrounding ecosystem.

2012: Ken Salazar implements uranium mining moratorium

In 2012 the acting Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar designates a uranium mining moratorium on 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon national park. The purpose is to study the areas complex water table and see what effects uranium has had or could have on the landscape. The program was only funded for 6 years, at decreasing amounts each year. During that time the USGS team documented 15 springs and 5 wells with uranium levels that exceeded the EPA standard.

2017: Canyon Mine fills with water

In 2017, Canyon mine perforates an aquifer and the shaft fills with unexpected ground water at a rate of 18 gallons per minute, the operators start pumping the contaminated water (tested at 130 parts of dissolved uranium per billion, three times above the EPA standard) into retention ponds. These on-site ponds quickly fill up and operators start using water cannons to mist the waste water into the air speeding up the evaporation process. This method of dealing with the waste water is still happening today.

2017: President Trump investigates limiting factors to mining

In March 2017, President Trump issued an executive orderrequiring the heads of all federal regulatory agencies to “immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources.” One of the policies revisited by USFS during this review is the 20-year ban on uranium mining in and around Grand Canyon National Park. What came from this was a recommendation from USFS to allow for potential mineral development on the previously-withdrawn lands. Uranium prices are continuing to decline, currently priced at $21 dollars per pound.

2018: Uranium listed as critical mineral

In May of 2018 USGS was issued an executive order by President Trump to compile a new list of critical minerals, calling for a national strategy for reducing reliance on critical non-fuel minerals and promoting access to domestic supplies. The Department of Interior release that list in May of 2018 and uranium was found listed with and intended use for ‘nuclear fuel’.

2018: Industry asks for review of 20-year moratorium

The National Mining Association and the American Exploration and Mining Association challenge the Interior Department’s uranium mining moratorium around the Grand Canyon and claim that it’s based on an unconstitutional provision of federal law. In October of 2018 the Supreme Court appeals court decision rejected industry arguments and uphold the ban. But this doesn’t stop the mining industries push, they continue to lobby for increased quotas of uranium to be source domestically.

2019: Grijalva introduces GCCPA in the House

The Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act would take the existing moratorium and place a permanent ban on uranium mining in the same 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon. Eliminating future claims and current speculative mining claims that mining companies and individuals have staked on public lands without having made a valid discovery of minerals. This would not affect the multiple uses of the land, timber would still be harvested, cattle grazed, and of course all accessible for outdoor recreation like hunting, camping, hiking, and OHV use. This bill has currently just been introduced in the House and is waiting for a co-sponsor in the Senate.

2019: DoC submits quota report to President Trump

President Trump received a report from the DOC outlining the pros and cons to imposing a 25% quota for domestically source uranium. Currently the U.S. sources roughly 5% domestically and the rest from friendly allies like Canada and Australia. U.S. uranium ore purity levels are much lower than our friendly suppliers, so production cost of the material rises. Increasing this domestic quota would drastically increase the price of uranium to power companies, which are quoted “Even without the increased costs associated with the proposed quota, U.S. nuclear plants in competitive markets are under extreme financial pressure. In most markets today, nuclear generators are either unable or barely able to cover their total fixed costs of operation, including compensation for the risk associated with owning and operating a nuclear facility.” Higher prices would force nuclear power plants to shut down, killing more jobs than were previously generated from increased mining efforts.

2019: Senator Sinema introduces the GCCPA in the Senate

Senator Sinema took steps to permanently protect the Grand Canyon by introducing the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act in the Senate. After introduction in the House earlier this year, Senator Sinema recognized its benefits to Arizona’s economy and outdoor heritage. This law will prohibit new uranium mining around Grand Canyon National Park, protecting Arizona’s water supply, outdoor recreation and tourism industries, and tribal communities. Currently, the Grand Canyon welcomes over 6 million visitors a year, contributes $1.2 billion to local economies, and supports over 12,500 jobs in the region.

2020: Nuclear Fuels Working Group releases report

The U.S. Department of Energy released a report urging expanded uranium mining, streamlining regulatory reform and land access for uranium extraction. The working group’s recommendation to consider categorical exclusions for mining under the National Environmental Policy Act is especially concerning. Mining and conservation don’t have to mutually exclusive, but this balance can’t be achieved by weakening environmental laws. TU is committed to a path forward that allows for responsible mining without jeopardizing iconic landscapes like the Grand Canyon.

2021: Introduced by Rep Grijalva, GCPA passes House, H.R.1052

2021: Arizona Sens. Sinema and Kelly introduce GCPA, S.387 in Senate

2023: Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition proposes Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument

2023: President Biden designates Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument