Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
News Release for immediate release Thursday, 9/20/01
COALITION MOVES TO PROTECT NATIONAL PRESERVE FROM LAND GRAB
Contact: Daniel Patterson,
Desert Ecologist, CBD 520.623.5252 x 306
MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE, CA The Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association and Barstow-based Citizens for Mojave National Park filed a protest recently with the U.S. Interior Department to halt mining claim patenting (privatizing) of 673 acres of public lands in the Mojave National Preserve. If the Interior Department issues a full patent, the land will leave public ownership and become private lands as provided for under the 1872 mining law jeopardizing the future of the desert tortoise.
The park lands targeted for privatization are associated with the Cima Cinder Mine in the austere and beautiful Cinder Cones National Natural Landmark area of the Preserve; lands that also are designated critical habitat for survival and recovery of the threatened desert tortoise, the official state reptile of California.
"The desert tortoise is in a steep decline its critical habitat needs to be protected, not given away to private interests for mining and future development." said Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center. "The Interior Department should defend our American natural heritage by keeping this land public."
Represented by attorneys Roger Flynn and Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project, the conservation groups seek to ensure that the Interior Dept. carefully consider whether the mining claims are valid before making a decision that may result in the loss of park lands. If the claims are not valid, then they cannot be patented or mined. If the Department finds some of the claims are valid, then the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 requires that the patent may convey only the sub-surface minerals and not ownership of the surface lands. Then, the miners may be allowed to operate on the claims but could not consider selling the land to developers.
"These lands belong first and foremost to the American public, and we feel that's where they should stay," said Courtney Cuff with the National Parks Conservation Association. "National Park land serves an important role in restoring our spirit and it would be a shame if this acreage of the Mojave was illegally taken away from the American public."
The National Park Service (NPS) regulates all mining in parks on both patented and unpatented claims. But, there is another good reason for limiting the patent for valid claims in the Preserve. The NPS regulations better protect park resources from mining on claims where the surface belongs to the park than on claims that are fully patented. Miners can still mine on claims even if they receive only a limited patent, as long as they meet the standards of the NPS mining rules, adopted in 1977.
If the Interior Department invokes the 1872 mining law, the Caffee's private mining company can get full title to the public lands for a mere $2.50 per acre a relic of a bygone era when America was committed to disposing of its common lands. Congress clearly did not want privatization of National Park Service land in the Mojave National Preserve when it passed the California Desert Protection Act.
"The purpose of national parks and national natural landmarks is for public use, not as a giveaway of public lands for private gain." said Peter Burk, of Citizens for Mojave National Park.