Federal authorities have banned new mining for the next 20 years on the San Francisco Peaks, an extinct Arizona volcano held sacred by 13 American Indian tribes, including the nation. The BLM ban covers more than 74,000 acres, virtually all of the mountain considered one of the key cultural properties in the Southwest. At 12,643 feet, it's also the state's tallest mountain and offers views stretching to the Grand Canyon's North Rim, 80 miles away. A temporary ban had been in effect since November 1998. The Forest Service recommended the ban and BLM had to sign off because it oversees mining on federal lands. Merle Pete, a spokesman for Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye, said preserving the mountain was important to the tribe for cultural reasons. Navajos pray on the mountain and some have likened it to a church. "The nation would support this because it does sound like it will prevent mining, and the preservation of the soil is important to us," Pete said. There are still several small sand and gravel operations in the area that are not affected by the ban. Earlier this year, the federal government agreed to pay the operator of a 90-acre pumice mine $1 million to abandon the operation.
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