The U.S. Forest Service has withdrawn the final environmental impact statement for a huge copper mine near Superior, temporarily halting a land swap that would have given the mine’s owners title to a parcel deemed sacred by many Apaches and other Southwestern tribes.
In a statement released Monday, Tonto National Forest said the federal government had received significant input from many parties after the release of the final environmental impact statement on Jan. 15. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture directed the forest service to rescind the decision it made based on the review document.
Tonto officials said a recent memorandum issued by President Joe Biden regarding tribal consultation and strengthening nation-to-nation relationships was a factor in the decision.
“USDA has concluded that additional time is necessary to fully understand concerns raised by Tribes and the public and the project’s impacts to these important resources and ensure the agency’s compliance with federal law,” the statement said.
The January decision started a 60-day clock on a process to swap 5,376 acres of private land for 2,200 acres of forest land to Resolution Copper for the mining operation. The forest land includes Oak Flat, an area several tribes have fought to protect.
Opponents of the project cheered Monday’s decision.
“This is the right move by the Department of Agriculture,” San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler said in a statement. “The Resolution project will desecrate Chich’il Bildagoteel, also known as Oak Flat, which is the heart of our religious and cultural beliefs.”
The Forest Service said it would pursue further consultations with tribes and other interested parties, a process officials said could take several months.