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Permanent Protections for Two of America’s Great Western Landscapes

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed two important bills to conserve our country’s public lands and outdoor heritage: the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act, which will withdraw a million acres from future mining of uranium and minerals around the Grand Canyon and the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, which protects Chaco Canyon from oil and gas development. 

“Today’s votes are a tremendous victory for local communities, tribal nations and all Americans who value these cherished public lands,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president of public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “These bills will safeguard wildlife, drinking water, cultural treasures and popular recreation areas for generations to come. The Senate must now follow and quickly pass these responsible protections.”

Uranium mining during the Cold War left a toxic legacy in the West of health issues for Native American tribes and a clean-up bill that cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. In 2008, the Obama administration issued a 20-year ban on mining near the Grand Canyon in order to study the effects on the environment and public health.  The Grand Canyon bill makes permanent that administrative ban.

“The Grand Canyon is one of the great natural wonders of the world. It’s just common sense to protect the lands around it from the known threats of uranium mining so that future generations will be able to continue to hike, raft, hunt and fish in the area,” said Scott Garlid, conservation director for the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “This bill will help protect the water that is absolutely vital to the ongoing existence of the Havasupai tribe and for the 40 million users downstream.”

The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act would prevent oil and gas and other mineral leasing and development within 10 miles of the Chaco area, which includes ancient villages, roads and shrines that were built from 850-1250 AD. The Trump administration has attempted to lease land for oil and gas development within 10 miles of the park three times in the last two years. 

“More than 90-percent of public lands in northwestern New Mexico are already leased for oil and gas drilling. Additional oil and gas development will only exacerbate air and water pollution, fragment wildlife habitat and increase risks to public health,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.  “This bill draws the line and says the greater Chaco landscape must be off-limits.”

This summer the National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates adopted a resolution calling on state and federal policy makers to continue the ban on uranium mining. In addition, this week the National Wildlife Federation’s affiliates in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado wrote to U.S. House leaders to urge the passage of both the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act and the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act.

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