Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument:1.1 Mill Acres of Not-Mining?

Exact size and boundaries of monument are not yet known.
Source: Bureau of Land Management

As for me, to know that with a flick of a pen the President can undo the painful and laborious work of RMPs and Forest Plans, it would not encourage me to spend volunteer hours working on them.  For employees, it reminds me of my old expression about planning.. “the pay’s the same” and “if you’re not the lead mule, the scenery never changes.” But maybe that’s just me.

The WaPo has an interesting story on the  Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument (proposed with so far unknown boundaries).

Federal officials have started telling tribal and environmental groups to be available for a potential Grand Canyon announcement early next week, which would fall during Biden’s travel, said four of the people, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an announcement not yet public.

Who needs those pesky old maps.. or talking to people in the area in some kind of public process?

“No decisions have been made,” White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan said in an email. “But I can tell you that President Biden has conserved more land and water in his first year than any president since JFK, and his climate protection record is unmatched.”
Apparently there are Important People and Groups who think that Biden hasn’t done enough things they want, so we can expect a flurry of “things those groups want” prior to the election.  Again, as  a volunteer, commenting on the FS MOG ANPR, the BLM public lands rule,  reducing royalties for solar and wind, the CEQ NEPA regs, more regs for oil and gas.. it’s a lot.
The way that the WaPo describes it, it’s all about uranium and Tribes that don’t want it.

Advocates have been lobbying for a monument designation in part to honor long-standing Native American connections to the Grand Canyon. For the Havasupai Tribe, Baaj Nwaavjo means “where tribes roam,” and for the Hopi Tribe, I’tah Kukveni means “our ancestral footprints.” Other tribes, including the Hualapai, which means “people of the tall pines,” also have advocated the designation.

“This monument will show that we are beginning to protect the lands of the world,” Dianna Sue WhiteDove Uqualla, a Havasupai Tribal Council member, said in a July statement anticipating the decision and provided by a coalition of monument advocates.

This is one of those areas in which it looks like low-carbon energy sources runs into the 30×30 idea, as well as Tribal spiritual values.  But we might be able to figure out who’s really holding the cards by comparing the Biden Admin position across different projects.  Anyway, here’s the industry position:

Industry officials said they will explore ways to fight the decision. They said it would lock up some of the country’s highest-grade uranium deposits at a time when such fuel would be useful to the country’s clean energy and geopolitical goals. Russia provides more than 20 percent of U.S. nuclear fuel, and Congress is actively exploring new laws to boost U.S. uranium production and enrichment in response to Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

In an email, Curtis Moore, senior vice president of marketing and corporate development for Energy Fuels — one of the few uranium miners with operations in the United States — blasted the decision as making “zero sense.”

He said it contradicts several of the administration’s stated policies, including “supporting clean energy production and punishing Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”

Monument advocates have said only 1.3 percent of U.S. uranium reserves are in the Grand Canyon region.

That’s not my question.. mine would be “why do you need 1.1 mill acres to say “no uranium mining here”?”  Maybe that will come out in the announcement.

The announcement would help kick off an effort to promote Biden’s climate agenda, including progress from last year’s major climate-spending law, the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden is planning a three-state tour, with other stops in New Mexico and Utah, to talk about billions of dollars of investment that the law has prompted manufacturing companies to commit to making equipment that produces cleaner energy.

Arizona has become a major focus for Biden and other Democrats as they have gained ground politically in the state. The state has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of their big spending bills, with more than $8 billion in planned investment in a giant battery factory and other manufacturing developments, especially near Phoenix, according to the advocacy group Climate Power, which tracks such announcements.

In case you’re curious, here’s what the Biden Admin Energy Department had to say about the IRA and nuclear

Momentum is building for U.S. nuclear energy and the investments and tax incentives included in IRA guarantee a commitment to nuclear energy that will continue well throughout the nation’s journey to net-zero.

Wouldn’t a serious climate policy identify areas where renewables and mining are to occur? Otherwise it seems a bit like a leaf fluttering on random political winds.

For example, Tribes and environmental advocates tried to block the Thacker Pass lithium mine, also land considered to be sacred.  The Biden Admin was on the side of the mine. I guess we’re left to think that some Tribes are more important than others, some ENGOs are more important than others, or some States are more important than others based on some kind of political calculus.

15 thoughts on “Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument:1.1 Mill Acres of Not-Mining?”

  1. The area proposed for Monument designation was, for the most part, withdrawn from mineral entry by DOI with the consent of the Forest Service in 2012. So the designation would make permanent a 20-year withdrawal that’s already in place.

    The problem with uranium mining in this particular area, especially around the South Rim, is that it requires drilling deep underground in an area where the Havasupai people rely on a water source (Havasu Creek) that is entirely aquifer fed. Poison the aquifer, even by accident, and you’ll basically make the Havasupai homeland uninhabitable. So a good place to apply the precautionary principle.

    • Thanks, Ted! Is there actually 1.1 mill acres that were withdrawn? That seems like a lot of land for only 1.3% of the nation’s uranium.

  2. A few thoughts:

    – Has anyone seriously considered the potential establishment clause issues with allowing native American spiritual beliefs to dictate federal land management policy? Ever since Bears Ears, native American “sacred land” has been the main reason for designating national monuments. Seems there might be some first amendment concerns with the state blatantly endorsing a particular religion and basing policy on its beliefs.

    – Is there any piece of land anywhere in the United States that some Indian tribe does NOT consider “sacred”? Seems that term just gets thrown around whenever the tribes want to lock people out of federal lands, which is basically always. If everything is sacred, nothing is. Just like how national monuments are rapidly losing their significance as soon all federal lands in the west will be converted to national monuments. If everything is a national monument, what’s the point of even having them?

    – This article says that only 1% of US uranium reserves are in the new proposed monument. I wonder how much of the remaining 99% is already contained in wilderness areas, other national monuments, national recreation areas, wilderness study areas, lands with wilderness characteristics, ACEC’s, wildlife management areas, backcountry conservation areas, SMRAs, EMRAs, scenic viewscapes, and probably a dozen other designations I’m forgetting that already prohibit mining? For example, I know another major historical uranium mining area was the San Rafael Swell in Utah, which in 2019 was made mostly Wilderness and the rest a National Recreation Area. So those uranium reserves are also off limits. Are there any uranium reserves remaining in the western US that can be mined?

    – Of particular interest to me, much of the new proposed monument is in the Arizona Strip, where the BLM just recently completed travel planning in the last couple years, closing around 50% of existing roads in the area. Every time a new national monument is designated, the land management agencies have to create a new travel plan. So is the BLM now going to have to redo the travel plans they just finished creating, closing even more roads this time? Whatever happens with that, every time a new monument is created, promoting recreation is always listed as a reason for it, even though monument designations only ever end up hurting recreation access.

    • 1. I think if you asked, the Admin wouldn’t tell you that the spiritual beliefs are a reason. It’s more of a talking point. Because if spiritual beliefs were a reason, then the Admin should always side with Tribes, which we’ve seen at Thacker Pass, they don’t. Because EIS’s and public comment are not necessary for Monumentization, I don’t think they actually have to give reasons.

      2. We don’t know. If policy were rational, we would ask all the Tribes, including Eastern ones, so we would know and have some kind of national decarb policy that would take that into account, even buying currently non-fed sacred lands back.

      3. I don’t know but can ask around and try to find out.. weird that both the WaPo and NYT reporters just left it there… ENGO’s say … I don’t think they would have just left a statement there that say, Energy Fuels said. When entities disagree, I think I would try to find a neutral outside source.

      4. I guess that’s one of my point.. it’s demoralizing for groups to get involved in various RMP’s and other plans when the Prez can make them start over or obviate them with a stroke of the pen.. without an EIS, without public comment, which the Admin supposed cares greatly about. Except when they apparently don’t. It’s not particularly good for employee morale to have to start over, either.

      • 4. If this area has already been withdrawn from mining for awhile, I would guess that monument designation is not a big change from what existing plans say. (They could have supported the withdrawal and may have been updated to reflect it; maybe those plans are even being used to determine the boundaries – I know, I’m dreaming.)

    • In cases like this it appears an assumption is built in, that assumption being that protecting treaty/tribal resources also requires elevating and prioritizing a body of often vague and definitely religion-adjacent concepts as taking priority over others in the management of public lands, though as sharon points out the admin doesn’t always fall in line. Further worth pointing out that tribes aren’t uniquely prone to this kind of reasoning, wilderness management at large can and often does bring out vague concepts and prioritize them in land management. And as all know, loose, definitionally-flexible holistic paradigms in management tend to invite claims that anything (other than restrict access and do whatever the party invoking said vague paradigm wants) will inevitably destroy *everything*

  3. College athletics made prostitutes out of athletes who may now sell their name and likeness. That a Democrat in Congress or the White House will pimp public lands for votes is business as usual. The indigenous people will get their name on the tv news and in the remaining dozen or so daily newspapers. And nothing more. Native Alaskans ask for more drilling on federal land because it improves their lives with more tribal income. Hard to run a casino in Nome or some isolated village reachable only by float plane in summer or a thousand mile snowmobile ride in winter. Navahos like isolation and dominion over their own land. Understandable. But why would they participate in Stockholm syndrome federal National Monument designation? This move by Biden is an appropriation of their land for his benefit and Democrat party talking points to deflect from the discussions if elected politicians many sell YOUR name and LIKENESS for their benefit. The Bribe-centric Biden’s seem to believe in side deals with layers of LLC shell corporations in Delaware, and convoluted money laundering. Democrats in Oregon do. The Democrat Sec of State had a side job advising a marijuana seller that paid her more than the State salary. The recently EX secretary of state. What will Democrats do when they run out of other peoples’ land? Easy. Take yours and make it public. Kelo vs New London.

    • John: They have already started the process of taking private and state lands and putting them under federal control. They are using the ESA to create HCPs (“Habitat Conservation Plans”) and thereby removing our income-producing timberlands, swimming holes, fishing spots, and campsites from local control. This gradual conversion of state and private lands to federal access and control has been taking place over the past few decades — the frog in boiling water process — and has largely been accomplished in the full light of day, hidden under a blizzard of obscure acronyms. In my opinion, based on observation.

  4. Every time I read the word “sacred” I get a little shiver, like maybe someone forgot about 1A, as in the first amendment. If it were some southern Baptist church wanting something done for a religious reason we’d never give it consideration.

  5. Exactly. I brought that up in my comments on the Bears Ears management plan, where they’re proposing to largely ban motorized travel across the entire monument because vehicle noise offends the spirits of natives’ ancestors. They explicitly base federal policy on a specific group’s religious beliefs and ignore any first amendment concerns. Of course they didn’t even acknowledge that issue in scoping report where they were supposed to discuss all major issues raised in the comments. They’d rather just pretend the establishment clause doesn’t exist, or at least only applies against Christians.

    • Patrick, I’m sure that solicitors and lawyers for the Feds are thinking about how to couch that so it doesn’t run into that problem, if it does, they will have to go to court at some point and I’m sure they know that. But perhaps that’s an intentional political rallying point? Who knows?

    • Here’s a quote from the 9th Circuit (Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective v. Peterson) involving a proposed road in a spiritually important area. The 9th Circuit enjoined it, finding that the injunction did not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

      “The Forest Service remains free to administer the high country for all other designated purposes including outdoor recreation, range, watershed, wildlife and fish habitat and wilderness. See 16 U.S.C. § 1604(e)(1). The Forest Service would not, by virtue of this injunction, sponsor or become entangled in religious matters in violation of the establishment clause.” (Compare to an “injunction” against uranium mining.)

      “Moreover, managing the National Forest so as not to burden genuine Indian religious beliefs and practices is not an endorsement or advancement of that religion but evidences a policy of neutrality. The Constitution encourages accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions and forbids hostility toward any. It is in this spirit that Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1996, which adopted the policy of protecting and preserving traditional Indian religious beliefs and practices, including access to sites.” (Citations omitted.)

      (The Supreme Court reversed the injunction because construction of the road did not violate the Free Exercise Clause, which is what this case was actually about.)

      • Interesting to see that issue has been addressed by at least one court, if only tangentially. Still, kind of a big difference between not building a road because it offends native religious beliefs and creating multiple entire national monuments managed expressly based on native religious beliefs to the exclusion and detriment of the general public. I wonder if the court would still have said, “managing the National Forest so as not to burden genuine Indian religious beliefs and practices is not an endorsement or advancement of that religion but evidences a policy of neutrality” if instead of simply not building one road, they had closed every existing road on that forest and essentially eliminated all recreational access to it in the name of not offending native religious beliefs, which is what the BLM is proposing to do in Bears Ears at least under the most extreme alternative for the management plan.

        • “closed every existing road on that forest and essentially eliminated all recreational access to it the name of not offending native religious beliefs” I don’t think that’s what’s happening with this designation. Beyond native culture, there are lots of “scientific and historic” reasons given equal treatment in the proclamation:

          And there will be a public planning process to determine actual management (not to mention a FACA committee advising it). “In preparing the management plan, the Secretaries shall take into account, to the maximum extent practicable, maintaining the undeveloped character of the lands within the monument; minimizing impacts from surface-disturbing activities; providing appropriate access for livestock grazing, recreation, hunting, fishing, dispersed camping, wildlife management, and scientific research; and emphasizing the retention of natural quiet, dark night skies and scenic attributes of the landscape. In the development and implementation of the management plan, the Secretaries shall maximize opportunities, pursuant to applicable legal authorities, for shared resources, operational efficiency, and cooperation, and shall, to the maximum extent practicable, carefully incorporate the Indigenous Knowledge or special expertise offered by Tribal Nations and work with Tribal Nations to appropriately protect that knowledge.”

          The closest it comes to promoting any “special treatment” of native tribes is probably this: “The Secretaries shall consider appropriate mechanisms to provide for temporary closures to the general public of specific portions of the monument to protect the privacy of cultural, religious, and gathering activities of members of Tribal Nations.” I believe there is a court case supporting this kind of temporary protection.


Leave a Comment