Local advocates continue fight against proposed drilling in the Eastern Sierra,
as BLM informs groups that claim holders are searching for company to take up project

Press release from Sierra Club and Friends of the Inyo

BISHOP, CA On the heels of local groups’ fight against exploratory drilling in the Eastern Sierra, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has informed local stakeholders that Canada-based Silver Standard Resources (SSR Inc.) withdrew its application to explore gold mining at Conglomerate Mesa. Within days, however, the BLM notified groups that the mining claim holders were scouting for a new company to take over the project, the clear implication being that Conglomerate Mesa is not yet out of danger.

SSR Inc’s decision to abandon the ill-conceived project came after months of public opposition to mining operations at the scenic and culturally important mesa, located in the Southern Inyo Mountains adjacent to Death Valley National Park. The company’s withdrawal of the project immediately followed a request for BLM review by five conservation groups, including Friends of the Inyo and the Sierra Club.

In a June 26 letter, the BLM informed these groups that their request for review had been denied, because SSR Inc. had already withdrawn its application for exploration. Yet before the project was fully closed, the holders of the mining claim informed BLM they were looking to transfer the project to a new operator. In turn, the BLM granted the claimants 60 days to find another company to take over the project. At present, there are many unanswered questions about the BLM’s decision making; it is rare that the agency will allow an approved project to be shopped about for a new company to undertake.

The exploration project would involve drilling of seven holes to a depth of 1,000 feet, and would require a mining company to obtain water from an unspecified offsite location. The water would then be hauled in by truck to the nearest access road, then pumped uphill to drill sites. These activities would create dust and noise disturbance to visitors and wildlife, impact dark skies with 24/7 lights, and deplete scarce water sources.

Conglomerate Mesa is our ancestral homeland. We will oppose any company that tries to take over this project. Exploration is the first step to destructive industrial-scale open pit mining,” said Kathy Bancroft, Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. “We remain united as a community in stopping any effort to damage this significant cultural area.”

Conglomerate Mesa cannot be considered ‘safe’ while it is in limbo,” said Jora Fogg, Policy Director of Friends of the Inyo. “The local constituency for protecting our public lands, scarce water supplies, and rural quality of life is strong and vocal in opposition to this project. No matter which mining company comes our way, let it be known — our groups will never stop fighting until the mesa gets the permanent protection it so richly deserves.”

The groups’ request for BLM review outlined the agency’s failure to carefully study and consider the project’s potential impacts to critical ground and surface waters, and to the region’s renowned scenic values and dark night skies. The BLM had, for example, offered no analysis of the mesa’s groundwater supplies or how they might be affected by deep exploratory drilling using unidentified drilling chemicals. The BLM also failed to provide legally required monitoring and protections for rare plants.

While the withdrawal of the current test drilling application is wonderful news for the Eastern Sierra’s wild creatures and the people who appreciate and care about them, we are not out of the woods just yet,” said Cindy Kamler, Director and Founder of Wildcare Eastern Sierra. “The mesa’s furred, feathered and scaled occupants, as well as its flowers and plants, will only be safe from harm when no one is setting their sights on activities that pollute their water sources.”

In addition to protecting the mesa’s remarkable viewscapes, cultural values, and diverse plant and animal life, safeguarding Conglomerate Mesa is essential to preserving Inyo County’s robust outdoor recreation economy — the economic engine of the Eastern Sierra.

In the 25 years I’ve been here, I and others like me have generated millions of dollars of research work for the valley — work that has both employed and inspired our community for decades,” said Erik Leitch, local scientist and Bishop resident. “For the long-term health of our local economy, that’s what we need more of: generative industries that create new opportunities and resources, not extractive ones, that merely take them away.”

While Friends of the Inyo, the Sierra Club and their many allies and volunteers are delighted to see SSR Mining, a large and well-funded international company, leave Conglomerate Mesa, these local advocates recognize that the fight won’t be over until these lands receive the permanent protection they deserve.

Conglomerate Mesa will not be fully safe until it is permanently protected from the threat of industrial-scale open pit mining,” said Lynn Boulton, Chair of the Sierra Club’s Range of Light Group. “Our most valuable ‘gold’ is not in the ground — it is the healthy environment and stunning natural scenery that fuel our local economy, our outdoor recreation opportunities, and our overall quality of life in the Eastern Sierra.”

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About Friends of the Inyo

Founded in 1986, Friends of the Inyo’s mission is to protect and care for the public lands of the Eastern Sierra. They are a member of the Friends Grassroots Network, a connected network of 67 locally-based organizations around the west working to advance strong conservation management policies and practices on BLM lands.

About the Sierra Club

Sierra Club was founded in 1892 and is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organization. It is a national nonprofit organization of over 795,000 members, with approximately 174,000 members in California. In Inyo and Mono Counties, CA the Sierra Club Range of Light Group offers outings and advocates for public lands and environmental protection on a wide range of issues with 428 members across both Counties.

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