Omnibus Lands Bill Could Affect Climbing at Oak Flat

Date: 12/14/2010

The Access Fund is keeping tabs on a huge public lands bill that, though unlikely, could potentially pass Congress during the lame duck session. The ‘‘Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2010’’ includes provisions that would enact the controversial Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act.

The Access Fund and Arizona climbing community have long worked to protect climbing in central Arizona, first through the Friends of Queen Creek and then the Queen Creek Coalition (QCC). The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange bill would destroy hundreds of existing roped climbing routes and thousands of bouldering problems by transferring US Forest Service lands to Resolution Copper Mining (RCM) for a block cave mine. For more background see here and here. If the Omnibus bill is passed, the Arizona Land Exchange will move forward, pending a public National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. If the Omnibus does not pass, the Arizona Land Exchange bill is dead and will need to be reintroduced in the new session of Congress where it likely will quickly gain support in the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives.

David Salisbury, CEO of RCM, says that, “We’ve encouraged Congress to move the bill that the Senate Energy Committee has reported.” In other words, RCM says they are advocating for the current language of the bill to remain unchanged if it is reintroduced next year, including all the provisions to compensate the climbing community and the required upfront environmental analysis. However, if the Omnibus does not pass this year, the final language of the proposed law is up to the new Congress next year. Several key members of Congress remain opposed to the NEPA provision. While the bill, if passed, would result in a huge loss to the climbing community, many think the removal of the upfront NEPA provision would be even worse, thus eliminating an important federal process that climbers, conservationists, and other groups can use to hold RCM accountable.

This past year strategic disagreements in the climbing community split the QCC into two groups: one that retains the QCC name and works directly with the copper company to obtain the “most net rock climbing,” and the Concerned Climbers of Arizona who advocate for continued recreational access to climbing areas that are threatened by development or other forms of encroachment. The Access Fund has not exclusively sided with either of central Arizona’s climbing advocacy groups, but continues to work with each organization, Congress, and RCM directly to advocate for climbing access and the conservation of climbing resources in Arizona.

Additional proposed laws in the Omnibus of interest to climbers include new national parks, designated wilderness areas (including a proposal in Washington State supported and in part shaped by the Access Fund), protections for rivers and trails, and Access Fund-backed support for funding to purchase important lands for conservation and outdoor recreation. Given Congress’s packed legislative calendar the remainder of the year and the many complications in this bill, many pundits now think it a longshot that the lame duck Congress will pass a public lands Omnibus package at all in 2010.

For more information, stay tuned to the Access Fund’s E-news.