Proposed Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness

Commentary by Glynn A. Burkhardt
Vice President, Arizona Small Mine Operators Association

Arizona - 2/16/04 - Freshman Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, supported by the Sky Islands Institute and the Friends of the Tumacacori Highlands, proposed a new Arizona wilderness on January 10th, 2004. This proposed wilderness located in Southern Arizona would encompass approximately 85,000 acres or about 130 square miles.

This wilderness proposal covers an area south and southwest of Tucson about 65 miles and includes the Atacosa and Tumacacori Mountains as well as canyons and valleys between the mountain ranges.

The Arizona Small Mine Operators Association asks everyone to oppose this proposed wilderness designation for many well founded reasons.

The proposed area contains industrial and strategic minerals as well as precious metals that are crucial to the health of the United States economic and defensive security. These minerals include but are not limited to gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, platinum group metals, uranium and rare earths. This area is described by several publications as one of the areas most likely to host undiscovered porphyry copper deposits as well as substantial precious metal and rare earth deposits.

This area also has numerous "gemstone" deposits. These deposits contain amethyst, citrine, blue opal, fire opal, fire agate, turquoise, malachite and gem silica. Numerous mining claims, small mines and prospects are scattered throughout each of the mountain ranges as well as the valleys within the area. This proposed wilderness area covers part of the world famous Planchas de Plata including the area of the Tumacacori Mountains where two of the largest pieces of native silver were found.

Wilderness designation would prohibit the exploration for these minerals and their commercial or recreational removal within its boundaries. This area is a favorite for treasure hunters searching for the lost mines and buried wealth of the Spanish Conquistadors, Jesuit Priests and Opata Indians, as well as the hidden treasures of the old prospectors and small miners. Many legends surround the mountain ranges pertaining to these treasures as well as lost mines such as the Virgin of the Guadaloupe. Exploration and search activities would be prohibited under the wilderness designation.

The proposed wilderness would strip the heritage of prospecting and mining within the area from families with generations of historic knowledge of the lands and mineral deposits, knowledge dating as far back as the Spanish explorers.

Congressman Grijalva’s proposal attempts to place designated roads into a jig saw puzzle pattern with narrow, non-wilderness buffer zones following their courses. This is an ill-advised attempt to adhere to the road-less requirements for wilderness designation as well as a blatant attempt to circumvent many current federal laws and regulations in order to create a "wilderness" in an area that cannot meet the wilderness criteria.

This plan would close numerous historic roads and jeep trails that allow access throughout the area by those members of society who are too young, too elderly or have mental or physical handicaps that prevent them from walking for long distances or over rough ground. Wheelchair access would be permitted, but a wheelchair will not go far over this rugged landscape.

These road closures would greatly burden the ranchers who use the roads and jeep trails to access their improvements which include fences, windmills, solar pumps, water troughs, storage tanks and stock tanks as well as enabling them to manage, doctor and supplement the diets of their livestock.

Under this proposal Hunters would lose the use of the roads and jeep trails that allow them to reach base camps and to recover harvested game. The Arizona Game and Fish Department would also lose the use of the closed roads that are needed for enforcement actions of hunting and fishing regulations.

The proposed wilderness area and the closure of roads and jeep trails will halt the ability of the United States Border Patrol to protect this country. The wilderness would use the United States and Mexico Border as its southern boundary and would provide an open and lawless corridor for drug runners, coyotes, illegal immigrants and foreign terrorists intent on operating within the United States.

This proposed wilderness would create another huge area of unmanaged forest that is ripe for wildfires, while road closures would impede access by to the area by firefighters.

In 1961 Congressman Mo Udall promised that Arizona wilderness areas would not exceed "a maximum of 3,661,347 acres presently under federal ownership, an area representing 5% of the state, to be part of the wilderness system". Arizona already has 90 National Wilderness Areas. That means 6.22% of Arizona is already in Wilderness lockdown. That is 1 acre of wilderness for every 16 acres in the State. His promise has already been broken and exceeded by 877,566 acres. It is time to eliminate this excess and reduce the Wilderness system within Arizona by that amount.

The lands to be included in the Tumacacori wilderness are currently a multiple use area of the Coronado National Forest system, accessible to all, young and old, whole and handicapped and should remain so. The ecology and natural resources of this land is already well managed and protected as part of the Coronado, United States National Forest Service. This proposed wilderness would simply lock the American public out of their lands, remove access to mineral wealth at a globally unstable time while creating another wilderness tinderbox.

Congressman Grijalva should stop pandering to a few radical environmental groups that wish to close these lands to all but a select few and concentrate on representing the people of his district. He should reconsider and retract his proposal for a Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness and in doing so protect the best interests of the nation while at the same time supporting full access to public lands by all people, not just an elite minority.

(The above was press release sent to the Tucson Citizen, to be published in the Monday, Feb. 16th, 2004 edition of the Tucson Citizen. I wrote this as in opposition to the proposed wilderness. This is actually an updated version of an earlier release that was provided to them on Jan., 10. It was resubmitted Feb., 4 with the amendments after delays by the paper in its publication, the rewrite was accepted. The Citizen has been soliciting opposition letters for over a month, so it ought to be interesting to observe how they have worked with the greens to refute the points below. - GB)


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