December 27, 2016

BLM bans new mining claims in protected desert land areas

By Jim Steinberg
San Bernardino Sun

The federal Bureau of Land Management wants to halt new mining claims from sprouting up on more than 1 million acres of land in the California desert.

On Wednesday the bureau will propose the temporary withdrawal of more than 1.3 million acres of the state’s National Conservation Lands from the “adverse impacts of mining.” The stoppage will take effect immediately until a thorough evaluation is completed in two years. The evaluation will decide if the ban will become permanent.

The proposal would not prohibit ongoing or future mining on valid existing claims, only new claims, according to bureau spokeswoman Martha Maciel.

The step is the first in a series to “more fully protect important areas within the California Desert Conservation Area,” Beth Ransel, the bureau’s California desert district manager, said in a statement.

The proposal targets four priority areas including 418,000 acres in the Amargosa Valley of Inyo and San Bernardino counties, the 95,000-acre Big Morongo area of San Bernardino County, the 590,000-acre Chuckwalla Bench/Dos Palmas area of Riverside County and 236,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra, Maciel said.

The proposal is to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register and initiates the temporary ban on new claims.

“This is something that is going to be welcomed by the conservation and scientific community, hunters and those areas where (desert land) tourism is important to their local economy,” said Frazier Haney, conservation manager for the Mojave Desert Land Trust in Joshua Tree.

Officials with the National Mining Association, the American Exploration and Mining Association and the Gold Prospectors Association of America could not be reached for comment.

This is the last step in the process of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, Haney said, which identified these lands as being vital to biological and cultural resources.

The plan took effect Sept. 14 and is intended to direct large-scale alternative energy projects away from sensitive lands.

Before making a final decision, the bureau will conduct studies to weigh considerations of the environment versus the impacts of taking these areas out of new mining development.

There also will be a series of meetings to consider information from the public and others on the mineral potential of the affected areas, according to the bureau.