Carlota Complaints

As if the Forest Service weren't already beleaguered over the Carlota Mine--a 300-acre hole and an equal-size mountain of toxic rock that a Canadian conglomerate wants to install in the Tonto National Forest west of Globe. The Environmental Protection Agency has given the mine its worst possible rating. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have all panned the project. The neighbors are up in arms. The mining company is irate because it has spent five years and million of dollars but still lacks the requisite permits to go ahead.

And now two Native American tribes, the Hopi and the White Mountain Apache, have complained to the secretary of agriculture that the Forest Service has mishandled prehistoric Indian sites, including at least three graves, where the mine is supposed to go in.

It's an old argument, really, a long-standing dispute between the tribes and the Forest Service over what happens to prehistoric human remains. It pits the federal bureaucracy against Native American religions. It reeks of racial anger. And antimining activists are smart enough to exploit it all.

The project would include a pit in the middle of Pinto Creek--a perennial stream that the Fish and Wildlife Service has designated as "wild and scenic," and the conservation group American Rivers named as one of ten most endangered rivers.

Copper ore dug from the pit would be piled in a leach pad in the center of an adjoining wash and then doused in sulfuric acid to separate the copper from the rock. The creek drains into Roosevelt Lake, which means that if either of the diversion channels cut around the streambed and the wash failed, it could send a toxic mess cascading into a principal water supply for the Valley ("No Miner Consideration," September 7, 1995).

The Forest Service has carried on with the permitting process under the overriding conviction that, as bad as the mine may be, it must be allowed under the 1872 Mining Law. And a host of Southwestern congressmen, including J.D. Hayworth, John McCain and Jon Kyl, have voiced their support for the project.

This spring, archaeologists under contract with the Tonto National Forest drove backhoes onto the property and began excavating 42 archaeological sites. Twenty of them were historic mining and ranching locations; the remaining 22 were prehistoric, including three Hohokam graves dating to about A.D. 1000, and a number of dwellings from the Hohokam and the subsequent Salado cultures.

In April, Deborah Ham, a Globe attorney, sued the Forest Service in federal court, arguing that the excavations were tearing up habitat for a mine that was not even approved yet. Ham won an injunction to stop the digging until a judge could consider the case.

In its brief, the Forest Service called the project "so invasive . . . that it would never be considered much less approved were it not for the mining law of 1872." But since the mine seemed inevitable under the law, Scott Wood, the forest archaeologist, saw no reason to put off the archaeological data collecting.

The judge agreed, lifted the injunction and threw out the lawsuit.
The next challenge came in July in a letter from Ramon Riley, cultural director for the White Mountain Apache tribe, to the secretary of agriculture, who oversees the Forest Service. According to a vague paragraph in the National Historic Preservation Act, agencies are supposed to consult with affected parties before disturbing historic or prehistoric sites.

Riley's letter found ". . . 'consultations' to be wholly inadequate, insensitive and out of compliance with the intent of either act."

He tells New Times, "There were some things done that we thought they had not consulted with the tribes like the Navajo and the Hopi and ourselves. There was a backhoe that dug human remains out. They never told us anything. That's been Apache land for years and that's why we're concerned."

But when pressed for specifics, Riley defers to Aimee Boulanger, the Colorado-based representative of the Mineral Policy Center, an antimining lobby. Riley says Boulanger and Bureau of Indian Affairs archaeologist John Welch wrote the letter; Riley merely signed it. Riley did attach an affidavit in which he called the mine "the latest in an unbroken chain of social and environmental injustices sponsored by the United States to benefit an aristocratic minority. The mine will obliterate land that belonged to our ancestors."

The area in question was in fact part of an Apache reservation until the 1890s, when the federal government took it back.

Riley's letter also states that the head of the Forest Service, Jack Ward Thomas, was twice put on notice by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the federal agency that monitors the National Historic Preservation Act, for inadequate consultation. In fact, the letter was sent to Thomas twice, after he claimed to have misplaced the first.

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Michael Kiefer