A 20-year mining ban in Oak Creek Canyon expired in May. U.S. Forest Service officials are in the process of renewing it, but for now it leaves the area open to potential mining claims. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.
The 10,500-acre mineral withdrawal stretches from Oak Creek Vista to the Sedona City limits, and includes several popular recreation areas. Coconino National Forest officials say they’ll soon apply with the Bureau of Land Management to renew the ban, but the process could take a year.
Forest managers say complications arose when they submitted renewals for withdrawals on both the San Francisco Peaks and Oak Creek Canyon at the same time.
"It does have moderate potential for uranium, which is, of course, a major concern in that special area … It’s open and somebody could stake a claim. There are certain legal things that they’d have to meet," says the Coconino National Forest's Lands and Minerals Program Manager Deirdre McLaughlin.
She says there are few, if any, other known valuable mineral deposits in Oak Creek Canyon.
"It’s astonishing that anyone would allow its protections to expire,” says Taylor McKinnon, senior public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service can’t move fast enough to fix this stunning oversight, and we’re evaluating legal action to make sure that happens.”
McKinnon says Oak Creek Canyon is a cradle for biodiversity loved throughout the world.
The BLM’s database doesn’t appear to show any new mining claims there. A public comment period and meetings will be scheduled once the application is turned in.