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Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park,California                                                                                (Mike Painter)

 
August 12, 2021

Dear CalUWild friends—

I took the last week of July off and got away to the Eastern Sierra, Bodie Hills, and Yosemite, so this issue of the Update is a bit later than usual. It’s now mid-August, so time when kids go back to school, and though that takes some of the pressure off visitation to our public lands, more and more people are visiting in the “shoulder seasons,” too—if smoke and heat don’t interfere.

Congress is on recess right now, though that simply means that they are at home in their districts, not necessarily on vacation. It’s a good time to visit them personally and make your views known on the issues of the day. We need to keep the pressure on for protection of and funding for our public lands, even though there are many other important issues to be dealt with as well, protection of democracy being at the top of the list.

Two ACTION ITEMS this month are explained below in quite a bit of detail. There’s no need to use all the information contained in them; just take whatever you find most appealing, add your own perspective, and send in a comment.

Thanks, as always, for your interest in protecting our wilderness and other public lands!

 
Best wishes,
Mike

 
IN UTAH
1.   Red Rock Bill Cosponsorship Status
          (ACTION ITEM)

IN CALIFORNIA
2.   BLM Opens Scoping on Conglomerate Mesa
          Gold Mining Project Expansion
          Comments Needed
          DEADLINE: August 30
          (ACTION ITEM)
3.   Point Reyes National Seashore
          60-Day Planning Delay
          Comments Needed ASAP
          (ACTION ITEM)

IN THE PRESS & ELSEWHERE
4.   Links to Articles and Other Items of Interest

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IN UTAH
1.   Red Rock Bill Cosponsorship Status
          (ACTION ITEM)

In June, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-47) of California re-introduced America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (H.R. 3750) in the House of Representatives. The bill protects about 8.5 million acres of land in Utah, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as wilderness, It is CalUWild’s longest-standing and most important legislative priority. There are now 70 House cosponsors. Twelve are from California (including lead sponsor Lowenthal), and two Californians added their names last month:

Pete Aguilar (D-31) phone: 202-225-3201
Maxine Waters (D-43) phone: 202-225-2201

If you live in either district, please give their office a call to say thanks.

In the Senate, there are 17 cosponsors of S. 1535, including lead sponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) is not a cosponsor yet, though he is a champion for California public lands. Please call his office urging him to sign on:

202-224-3553

Cosponsorship status and DC contact information for California’s full congressional delegation can be found on CalUWild’s online California Congressional Information Sheet.. If your representative is a cosponsor, please call their office and thank them. If not, call and ask them to sign on.

A full list of cosponsors nationwide, in both House and Senate, may be found here.

 
IN CALIFORNIA
2.   BLM Opens Scoping on Conglomerate Mesa
          Gold Mining Project Expansion
          Comments Needed
          DEADLINE: August 30
          (ACTION ITEM)

Gold mining and exploration continue to be issues east of the Sierra. We wrote about Conglomerate Mesa, a wild area between Lone Pine and Death Valley, in our October 2017 Update. Canadian company, K2 Gold/Mojave Precious Metals (MPM), is hoping to expand its exploratory drilling operations beyond the “Plan of Operations” that the Bureau of Land Management had previously approved and which have been going on for the last year or so. In response, the BLM has initiated a public comment scoping period for interested persons to provide input on the company’s proposal.

In addition to many cultural resources, scenic landscapes, and threatened habitat, Conglomerate Mesa is also an important area for the Timbisha Shoshone and Paiute Shoshone Tribes, who oppose gold mining in the area. Given the unique and important character of Conglomerate Mesa, we also oppose any operations there, even if only exploratory.

Please submit a comment, using the talking points below, provided by the Protect Conglomerate Mesa coalition. Comments are being accepted through August 30.

National Conservation Lands: Established in 2016, Conglomerate Mesa is part of the California Desert National Conservation Lands which directs BLM to manage them for conservation and recreation. Most development, such as renewable energy, is closed on National Conservation Lands. Although the 1872 Mining Law allows for mining, even the early stages of exploration go directly against the intended management of this landscape.

Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC): A large portion of K2 Gold’s mining activity falls within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern that is meant to provide protection to cultural resources, rare plant and animal species, and wildlife habitat. Conglomerate Mesa ACEC provides an opportunity to research the role Cerro Gordo played in the Owens Valley resource wars, answer questions about the ethnicity of charcoal makers, and allow for the examination of the prehistoric and historic lifeways of the Native American people who used this area. The Cerro Gordo-Conglomerate Mesa ACEC also includes unique plant assemblages, since it lies at the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert and the western edge of the Inyo Mountains.

Outstanding Botanical Values: Conglomerate Mesa is teeming with rare desert plants as the landscape transitions from the badlands of Death Valley, through the Mojave Desert and into the high Inyo Mountains. Many populations of rare and special-status plants that have been documented here could be adversely impacted by proposed drilling and road construction. Several rare species, such as Parry’s monkeyflower and Shockley’s prickleleaf, reach the edge of their range near the project area. Any exploratory drilling and road construction would significantly threaten this botanic oasis. Of particular concern are the Inyo rock daisy (known only from the Inyo Mountains) and healthy, reproducing stands of the iconic Joshua Tree (currently a candidate for listing under California’s Endangered Species Act). The Badger Flat thread plant, a rare species that is new to science, grows right in the middle of the proposed road footprint. Proposed drilling and road construction pose a significant threat to Conglomerate Mesa’s rare plants and the intact ecosystem of which they are a part.

Geologic Resources: Conglomerate Mesa provides an unusually complete record that is key to unraveling the evolution of the continental edge of the southwestern US. This record would be destroyed forever by open-pit mining and cannot be made right through backfilling or reclamation. The record dates all the way back to the Permian and early Triassic periods (c. 247-300 million years ago). Several strata contain fossils (fusulinids, a type of plankton with calcite casings, and corals) that accurately date them. Some of the fusulinids are endemic to the Conglomerate Mesa area.

Cultural Resources: Conglomerate Mesa is the traditional homelands of the Timbisha Shoshone and Paiute Shoshone people. This area is an important area for pinyon nut harvesting, hunting, and is one of the many blending zones of transitional territories. Numerous leaders in local tribes have opposed the gold exploration and mining by K2 Gold. We stand united with the Indigenous people in this opposition.

Preserving Our History: Conglomerate Mesa is rich in heritage resources, including the historic Keeler-Death Valley Trail, which transported mining supplies and workers. The Mesa is a little known and underappreciated location for charcoal production and stone masonry sites active in the 1890’s. These small groups of charcoliers would produce charcoal from pinyon trees and haul them north to the Cerro Gordo mines, which helped produce the silver that financed the construction of Los Angeles. These special sites and their stories must be preserved.

Wildlife: Conglomerate Mesa is commonly used by mule deer for overwintering and migration habitat. This area is prized by backcountry hunters. The area provides a home for a variety of rare wildlife and are hunting grounds for golden eagles and mountain lions. The area is also known to provide habitat for special status species, such as the Townsend’s western big-eared bat and Desert big-horned sheep, and mule deer. Few wildlife surveys have taken place at Conglomerate Mesa and more work is currently being done to research what wildlife live in these high desert habitats.

Recreation: Outdoor recreation is the economic engine of the Eastern Sierra, where local businesses are highly dependent on tourism-based revenue. The thousands of people who visit and recreate in Death Valley National Park, Conglomerate Mesa, and other surrounding public lands are the most powerful economic driver for the region. Mining operations severely limit public access, permanently scar lands, and drive visitors away.

 
For more information and photos of Conglomerate Mesa, visit the Protect Conglomerate Mesa website. Other detailed information can be found in BLM’s press announcement and the K2Gold/MPM Plan of Operations.

As always, personalized comments, in your own words, are best, especially if you have visited Conglomerate Mesa or plan to. Comments may be submitted as follows:

Via BLM’s ePlanning website

By email:

BLM_ca_ri_mojavePmetals [at] blm [dot] gov with “Mojave Project Scoping” in the subject line

By U.S. Mail:

Attn: Mojave Project
BLM Ridgecrest Field Office
300 S. Richmond Road
Ridgecrest, CA  93555

Again, the DEADLINE is August 30.

 
3.   Point Reyes National Seashore
          60-Day Planning Delay
          Comments Needed ASAP
          (ACTION ITEM)

In July the National Park Service requested an extension on the deadline to submit its final plan for ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) in Marin County. The seashore said that the California Coastal Commission had introduced complications by raising concerns about water pollution from the ranches and that the transition to the Biden Administration had also impacted its decision making. The court set a new deadline of September 13 for a decision.

The plan that was most likely going to be released (Alternative B) would result in continued ranching. It also would change the terms of leases, making them longer-term, despite the fact that ranching was originally supposed to have been phased out. Most controversially, the plan would allow the culling of Tule elk in favor of cattle ranching.

Please take advantage of this court-approved delay to contact Interior Secretary Deb Haaland directly, requesting her to adopt Alternative F, which would protect Point Reyes, rather than allow (and even facilitate) the continued degradation of the environment there. Because of the court-imposed deadline of September 13, the earlier you can get your comments in for Secty. Haaland’s consideration, the better.

Over 50 conservation organizations, including CalUWild, sent Secty. Haaland a letter in June requesting that she stop PRNS from issuing its likely plan.

You can use the following main points from that letter as the basis for your comments. (Please look at the letter for more details if you wish.) Of course, add any ideas of your own, including your experiences at Point Reyes and why it is special to you.

Background: Politics over preservation
After the Park Service bought the ranches at Point Reyes, the ranchers were allowed to continue operations for up to 25 years or until their death (whichever came later). They’ve managed to change this to renewable special use permits, repeatedly leasing back 28,000 acres of the park for their operations. Chronic water pollution, habitat loss, and livestock-wildlife conflicts continue to go unaddressed.

Drought conditions: Worsening with the climate crisis
Marin County has declared a drought emergency for the second year in a row. Persistent drought is barely mentioned in the plan. Groundwater supplies are exhausted. Last fall the Park Service permitted a dairy rancher to draw up to 15,000 gallons of water a day from nearby wetlands to supply his herds and operation, without performing any environmental analysis.

Tule elk: Decimating a rare and native species
More than 150 Tule elk have died so far this year due to drought at Point Reyes. A fence separates one herd from sources of water and forage. The plan calls for the killing of “excess” Tule elk that interfere with ranching operations within the Seashore. There are more cattle at Point Reyes Seashore than there are Tule elk in the world.

Climate change: We must act now
Livestock are responsible for 62% of the Seashore’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Beef and dairy ranches on lands managed by PRNS account for 6% of Marin County’s total GHG emissions.

Diversification: Compounding the problem with new species and crops
Under the pending plan, ranchers will be allowed to introduce sheep, goats, pigs and row crops to Point Reyes, as well as mobile slaughter facilities—none of which were ever permitted before. This diversification of agriculture will further disrupt ecosystems, jeopardize wildlife habitat, and impact wildlife behavior, as predators will be drawn to smaller livestock. The Park Service’s choice to prioritize ranchers over the health of an entire national park ecosystem flies in the face of its mission to protect and preserve the park’s natural resources.

The plan: Unsupported by science or the public
The plan acknowledges—but dismisses—the ecological costs of ranching, including soil erosion, invasive plants, loss of native habitat, wildlife harm and abuse, the contamination of freshwater and marine environments with fecal waste from cattle, and ecological stress due to water deficit. At the same time, the Park Service has categorically dismissed public opposition to the plan. It received more than 7,600 public comments, of which 91 percent opposed ranching and killing Tule elk, while the California Coastal Commission received more than 45,000 public comments opposed to the plan.

Cultural heritage: Ranching history is honored. Native American history is not.
The Park Service abandoned its plans to preserve the Seashore’s Coast Miwok heritage, withdrawing its application to the National Register of Historic Places to establish PRNS as an Indigenous Archeological District. Instead, the NPS pursued a Historic Ranching District, which was added to the National Register in 2018. The history and culture of the original inhabitants of this region, the Coast Miwok people, are largely neglected, though they have lived in the region for millennia.

In conclusion, Alternative F, identified by the Park Service as the environmentally superior alternative, is the only alternative that conforms with the Park Service Organic Act. Alternative F received the most public support of all the alternatives, limits climate impacts, and restores biodiversity.

 
There are various ways to contact Secty. Haaland.

By email (and consider attaching a picture, if you have one):

feedback [at] ios [dot] doi [dot] gov

By online webform

U.S. Mail:

Hon. Deb Haaland
Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC  20240

 
IN THE PRESS & ELSEWHERE
4.   Links to Articles and Other Items of Interest

If a link is broken or otherwise inaccessible, please send me an email, and I’ll fix it or send you a PDF copy. As always, inclusion of an item in this section does not imply agreement with the viewpoint expressed.

The Administration

An article in the Washington Post about the difficulties faced by the nomine for director of the Bureau of Land Management: As a student, Tracy Stone-Manning sent a letter on behalf of eco-saboteurs. It’s now complicating her chance to lead the Bureau of Land Management.

In Utah

An editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times: President Biden should undo Trump’s assault on our nation’s natural wonders

An op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune by writer and CalUWild Advisory Board Member Stephen Trimble: Mike Lee is Wrong. Capitol Reef is no place for OHVs. Steve is the editor of The Capitol Reef Reader, published by the University if Utah Press.

Another op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune dealing with Sen. Lee: Public lands pay dividends, and false narratives hurt Utahns the most

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune: The outdoors is Utah tech firms’ No. 1 recruiting tool

An article in The New Yorker on Glen Canyon emerging from the shrinking Lake Powell: The Lost Canyon Under Lake Powell

30×30

An example of what will be needed to achieve 30×30 in this article in The New Yorker: Florida’s Remarkable New Wildlife Corridor from the Panhandle to the Keys

An article in CalMatters: California is betting $61 million that new highway crossings will keep wildlife safe. Wildlife crossings help with wildlife corridor connectivity, one of the underlying 30×30 goals.

The Nature Conservancy has released a “story map” with details about what is needed to reach 30×30 in California.

In Nevada

An op-ed in the Sierra Nevada Ally by Russell Kuhlman, executive director of the Nevada Wildlife Federation: Reimagine Our Public Lands? The Diamond Valley Oil Project

In General

An article in the New York Times: Smartphone Directions May Put Novice Hikers in Danger, Experts Say

A different viewpoint on rewilding, in High Country News: Rewilding is a two-way street: A letter from your neighborhood deer.

An essay in Earth Island Journal re-examining the controversy surrounding John Muir: Who Was John Muir, Really?. The authors are 3 current and former members of the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors.

 
 
 

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