Breaking News: Archaeology Groups Oppose Proposed Arizona Land Swap

Archaeology groups are lining up against a proposal, currently being debated on the floor of the House of Representatives, to give a major copper mining company a large chunk of federal land in Arizona in exchange for private lands. The groups are particularly concerned that any mine built on the former federal land would destroy archeological sites near Oak Flat, a popular Arizona recreational area.

The trade would be "a blatant giveaway of the nation's public land to a single private stakeholder" and would set "a dangerous precedent," William F. Limp, president of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in Washington, D.C., argues with colleagues in a letter to lawmakers signed by eight archeology and historic preservation groups.

The proposal (H.R. 1904) would swap U.S. Forest Service land about 112 kilometers south of Phoenix for an array of privately owned lands elsewhere in the state. Under the arrangement, initially floated in 2005, Resolution Copper Co., an offshoot of global mining leader Rio Tinto, would get about 971 hectares of land believed to sit atop a vast deposit of high-quality copper. The federal government would get about 2144 hectares in exchange, including 1214 hectares of ecologically important land along the lower San Pedro River.

The Obama Administration has opposed the swap for a variety of reasons, many of which are described in the 24 October letter from the SAA, the American Rock Art Research Association in Arizona, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado and other groups. In particular, the trade carries no "assurances that priceless historic and cultural resources will be protected," they write. The bill exempts the transfer from prior reviews under environmental and historical preservation laws, they note, arguing that conducting such reviews "after land has been removed from federal control is clearly too little, too late, and not in the public interest." The House is expected to vote on the bill later this afternoon. ScienceInsider will be following the debate.

The Senate has yet to take up a companion measure, which would be necessary for the swap to move forward.