FLAGSTAFF, AZ – Wendsler Nosie Sr. is drawn to a mountainous area in central Arizona where he and other Apaches have harvested medicinal plants, held coming-of-age ceremonies and gathered acorns for generations.
On Thursday, he’ll start a three-day journey to make a permanent home in the area known as Chi’chil Bildagoteel, or Oak Flat, in protest of a proposed copper mine made possible by a federal land exchange.
The Resolution Copper mine near Superior would be one of the largest such mines in North America, using techniques known as block-cave mining that call for digging underneath the ore body and setting off explosions to extract it.
The technique generally has a smaller imprint than open-pit mines common around Arizona, but still it would leave a depression 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) deep and about 1.5 miles (2.41 kilometers) wide.
Nosie and others have been protesting at Oak Flat Campground since 2015, the year after the late Sen. John McCain added a rider to a defense spending bill to transfer federal land to Resolution Copper. Nosie said the intermittent religious gathering has not done much to change views in Washington.
The U.S. Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement earlier this year and received about 34,000 comments that it is analyzing. It expects to finalize the document next year and issue a record of decision.
Barring any legal challenges, 3.75 square miles (9.71 sq. kilometers) of federal land would then be transferred to Resolution Copper — a joint venture of global mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP — in exchange for land the company owns.
Companion bills in the U.S. House and Senate to rescind the land exchange haven’t gained much traction in Congress.