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U.S. Forest Service Halts Oak Flat Land Exchange

Ryan Heinsius

The U.S. Forest Service has halted a controversial land exchange in Arizona that would pave the way for one of the largest copper mines in the country. Officials say they want to perform a thorough review of the project after receiving numerous public comments. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The Forest Service says it withdrew its final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision to make sure it’s compiled the environmental, cultural and archaeological analyses required under federal law.

Forest officials say the decision is in line with a Biden administration memorandum meant to strengthen relationships and increase consultation with Native nations.

The Forest Service in January began the final phase of handing over 2,500 acres of Oak Flat to the international mining giant Rio Tinto. But it’s received pushback from members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe who’ve fought the project for years. They say the area is a sacred site and the Resolution Copper mine would destroy it. The group Apache Stronghold has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the land exchange.

Rio Tinto says it’s evaluating the Forest Service’s decision and is committed to ongoing consultation with tribes and local communities.

The agency says its review could take several months.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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