Mining Law Threatens Grand Canyon And Other Natural Treasures

A modern day land rush is sweeping the West, with mining interests and speculators staking thousands of claims that are encroaching on American treasures including the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Arches, and Yosemite National Parks. The United States' outdated mining law written in 1872 leaves these lands vulnerable to severe impacts.

Supported by the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, an Environmental Working Group analysis of government records shows that in 12 Western states, the total number of active mining claims has increased from 207,540 in January 2003 to 376,493 in July 2007—a rise of more than 80 percent. Between September 2006 and May 2007 alone, companies and individuals staked more than 50,000 claims.

Many of these claims are for uranium, sparked by global demand for nuclear power. Government data from just four states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) reveal an ongoing surge in uranium claims from an estimated 4,300 staked in fiscal year 2004 to more than 32,000 staked in fiscal year 2006.

Mining interests have also staked tens of thousands of claims for gold, copper and other metals, reflecting a worldwide demand for minerals. Thousands of the claims can be found at the doorstep of some of the West's most treasured places. For example, the explosion of mining activity threatens a crisis for Grand Canyon National Park, where companies and individuals have staked 815 claims within five miles of the park's boundary.

View the related June 2008 statement on mining and America's Western lands from Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining.  

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Andy Fisher

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Jane Danowitz

Senior Officer, Environment

Jane Danowitz joined Pew in 2002 as a senior officer responsible for the U.S. public lands protection program, which seeks to preserve America's wilderness areas and undeveloped national forests through federal legislation and regulations. Danowitz also directs the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, a coalition effort to reform the 1872 Mining Law, a frontier-era statute that still governs the mining of gold, uranium and other hard-rock metals on public lands in the West.Danowitz has more than three decades of experience in public interest education and advocacy at the federal level. Before joining Pew, she served as director of the Heritage Forests Campaign, a Pew-funded initiative to uphold the Roadless Area Conservation Rule protecting undeveloped national forests. She also was executive director of Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing funding for parks and conservation. In addition, she has significant experience in politics and public affairs, having served as vice president of Ogilvy Worldwide, as director of the bipartisan Women's Campaign Fund and as an aide in municipal government and on Capitol Hill.Danowitz holds a bachelor's degree in American history from Cornell University and a J.D. from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America.