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The Conglomerate Mesa Project

The Bureau of Land Management is under threat from mining interests. The agency’s considering a proposal from Silver Standard US Holdings Inc. to explore for low-grade gold ore as part of its plan to put a massive gold mine on Conglomerate Mesa, just east of Owens Lake in the scenic Inyo Mountains. Conglomerate Mesa was formerly included in the Cerro Gordo Wilderness Study Area, is adjacent to the Malpais Mesa Wilderness, and may still be considered for future wilderness designation. In 2016 it was also designated as part of the national landscape conservation system in recognition of its outstanding cultural and biological values. Part of Conglomerate Mesa was also designated as an “area of critical environmental concern” in 2016, further acknowledging its unique importance.

The proposed open-pit mine would use a poisonous cyanide-leaching process and destroy thousands of acres of fragile desert. Because of prior exploration in the area, we know the mine would produce less than half an ounce of gold from each ton of rock — literally. Worse, the mine site is less than five miles from the western border of Death Valley National Park and would be visible from the park, access roads, nearby wilderness areas and the high-elevation Sierra Nevada mountains, including Mount Whitney.

In addition to permanently destroying wilderness values and marring the desert landscape, this massive proposal would damage scarce desert water resources, increase dust and air pollution, destroy fragile desert soils, and destroy habitats for rare plant and wildlife species. The cyanide waste ponds would also create a deadly trap for migratory birds using the inland Pacific flyway.

The low-grade gold ore at Conglomerate Mesa is only be considered for mining because the price of gold is rising and the federal government continues to allow mining projects such as this one to destroy vast areas of our public lands virtually for free.

The BLM produced an inadequate “environmental assessment” for the exploratory drilling, which fails to address any of the environmental impacts that will result from a gold mine in this area. It also fails to adequately address the impacts of the exploration.