Groups fight proposed mining exploration near Death Valley

Groups fight proposed mining exploration near Death Valley
Environmental groups are circulating a petition asking elected officials to oppose a mining exploration project at Conglomerate Mesa near the town of Lone Pine, Calif. (Brian Ferwerd/BLM)

LONE PINE, CALIF. — Local environmental groups are voicing their concerns about a proposed mining exploration project about two miles west of California’s Death Valley.

The company Mojave Precious Metals wants to drill more than 100 holes to look for gold at Conglomerate Mesa, and to revive some roads in what is now considered a roadless landscape.

Kayla Browne, desert-lands organizer for the group Friends of the Inyo, said the area is important to migrating mule deer and is prime habitat for the Townsend’s western big-eared bat and the Inyo rock daisy.

“This particular daisy is only found in the southern Inyo Mountains,” she said, “and specifically Conglomerate Mesa and Cerro Gordo.”

The Bureau of Land Management soon will release an environmental analysis. The agency previously allowed helicopter-based drilling and now will decide whether to permit more of the same. On its website, Mojave Precious Metals said it would comply with “regulations that require projects to avoid unnecessary and undue environmental degradation.”

Browne acknowledged that the BLM has to take into consideration an 1872 mining law that allows prospecting on public lands and allows companies to stake claims.

“There are a lot of environmental groups that are trying to get that law changed,” she said, “because in 1872, mining was very different than what it is today. They weren’t industrial-scale, heavy machinery, large open-pit like they are now.”

The lands are part of the traditional homeland of the Timbisha-Shoshone and the Paiute-Shoshone Native American tribes. In a statement, the tribes said they’re disappointed in the way the prior drilling was carried out, and vow to oppose any future development.