Congress Serves up a Major Blow to Oak Flat Climbing


Almost sixty years ago, President Eisenhower withdrew Oak Flat, home to hundreds of roped climbs and thousands of bouldering problems outside of Phoenix, Arizona, from mining in order to protect its recreation, ecological, and spiritual values. For over ten years, a foreign mining company has sought to override this order of protection by passing a public land exchange bill that would allow them to take possession of the land for creation of a massive copper mine. Access Fund has fought every bill put in front of Congress that would hand over Oak Flat and result in the single largest loss of climbing resources ever.

We are devastated to report that both the Senate and the US House of Representatives passed the Oak Flat land exchange bill in early December by burying it in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA was a 1,600 page bill that packaged several land bills alongside the Defense bill. There was no opportunity for public involvement or input. The Access Fund vocally opposed this move to policy makers in both the House and Senate who had the power to intervene, but they all supported the lands package in its entirety. The Senators who opposed the land exchange were not allowed to make any changes to the bills included within the NDAA. Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, stated: "the inclusion of this bill (H.R. 687) in an omnibus lands package that twice failed on its own merits to pass a floor vote in the House, subverts the actual will of the House of Representatives."

This is a significant setback for the climbing community, but there will be more opportunities to oppose the destruction of the Oak Flat climbing area. The bill included a provision that the proposed mine is subject to an environmental assessment (NEPA) before the exchange is executed. The NEPA process mandates public review and the Access Fund will continue to fight the proposed mining operations. The Access Fund remains strongly aligned in the fight to save Oak Flat with the San Carlos Apache Tribe (check out this compelling video), the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the National Congress of American Indians, the Sierra Club, The Center for Biological Diversity, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Concerned Climbers of Arizona, the Concerned Citizens & Retired Miners of Superior, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, Earthworks, Outdoor Alliance and others.