Letter: On Conglomerate Mesa — It’s About Place (April 8, 2021)
By Mike Prather
Years ago Father Crowley realized that our wild landscapes in Inyo County were our sustainable future as opposed to the boom and bust of mining and other extractive industries. Father Crowley didn’t oppose mining, but he felt that the world-class beauty of the land could provide local communities with a more dependable economy through tourism and responsible recreation. The requirement was the protection of these lands through wise land use decisions.
One of the most beautiful areas of Inyo County’s landscape is now under threat from possible open pit gold mining, the permanent obliteration of a landscape with no reclamation possible. Conglomerate Mesa is located at the southern end of the Inyo Mountains immediately southeast of the ghost town of Cerro Gordo. It is visible from Highway 190 while traveling to and from Death Valley National Park as well as from the southern Saline Valley Road.
What is at stake?
- The wholesale destruction of an undisturbed landscape where people explore on foot, horse, 4×4, camp, gather pine nuts, discover history (historical Keeler-Death Valley Trail, charcoal making sites that supplied Cerro Gordo), enjoy natural quiet and sounds and solitude with few signs of disturbance by humans.
- Loss of cultural lands for Paiute-Shoshone people would be another act of callous disrespect.
- A majestic Joshua tree woodland at higher elevation, a sanctuary against changing climate, persists while other Joshua tree populations in lower desert locations like Joshua Tree National Park are facing extinction.
- A complete and unique fossil record (250-300M years old) for the SW edge of the North American continent would be erased.
- A natural corridor for wildlife connecting the Inyo Mountains and the Coso Mountains and Sierra would be severed.
K2 Gold, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada is seeking permits to drill more exploratory cores and blade a road into this wild and stunning corner of our county. Any gold trace would be invisible to the human eye and contain only hundredths of an ounce of gold per ton of rock – doom for Conglomerate Mesa in our age of open pit mining. If the exploration ‘proves up’ then it will be sold to giant Australian or Canadian mining corporations for full ‘development’.
Some here locally are saying, “Well, this is not a mine. It’s just exploration.” Ancient wisdom would answer, “Isn’t this the camel’s nose under the tent?” Other voices have accused residents of, “stirring things up”. This is a time-tested attempt to delegitimize any contrary opinions of the public. “Stirring things up’ is an American tradition of public dialog and advocacy.
Mining is accepted by most of us in Inyo County– pumice mining near Olancha, cinder mining near Little Lake, borate mining east of Death Valley National Park, soda ash mining on Owens Lake, geothermal energy extraction at Coco, gold mining on the west slope of the Panamint Mountains. Opponents of mining at Conglomerate Mesa are not opposed to mining. They are opposed to the permissiveness that allows any and all types of mining in any and all places. Supporters of wild lands cannot honestly be criticized as being against all extractive activities on our public lands. It is not true.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors must develop a clear and strong message that mining is acceptable in our county, but that mining in any location, in any manner is absolutely not welcome. Even though Inyo County has little control of mineral development it is still able to write strong policy that states what our vision of mineral development would be in the future. Inyo County can set its own standard.
It is in the interests of Inyo County to oppose open pit mining at Conglomerate Mesa. Supporting such an environmental, cultural and recreational loss is a mistake plain and simple.
Mike Prather is a local environmentalist, member of the Audubon Society, and former member of the Inyo County Water Commission