U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar yesterday announced a six-month extension of the moratorium on new uranium mining claims in a million-acre buffer zone around the Grand Canyon.

The temporary ban — enacted in July 2009 and due to expire next month — will now be in effect until December of this year, while the Bureau of Land Management completes a final environmental impact statement that evaluates the department’s “preferred alternative” of a 20-year ban on new mining in the full million-acre zone. Once that statement is published in the fall, Salazar said, he will be ready to make a final decision on the 20-year withdrawal.

Speaking from the South Rim of the canyon, Salazar emphasized the need for a management plan guided by “caution, wisdom and science,” in order to protect the World Heritage Site, drinking-water supplies, the tourism economy and tribal interests, noting that “many tribes in the area see their history and culture woven throughout the Grand Canyon’s landscape.”

Attempting to quell criticism that the withdrawal would deny access to uranium resources in the area, Salazar pointed out that it would apply only to new claims — the small number of existing claims would remain in effect and could continue to be developed. Referring to those claims, Salazar urged “cautious development with strong oversight.”

Salazar recalled the words President Theodore Roosevelt, spoken years ago at the same location: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

Read this Feb. 25, 2010 Sacred Land News post to learn more about the moratorium, the existing mining claims and the potential environmental impacts.