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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Environmental group seeks to limit mining near protected lands

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Riverside Press-Enterprise

An environmental group is pushing for federal legislation that would restrict mining within 10 miles of a national park, wilderness or other protected lands, a change that could affect thousands of California mining claims.

Congress is considering updates to the nation's 135-year-old mining law.

In San Bernardino and Riverside counties, 525 mining claims lie within 10 miles of Joshua Tree National Park, which straddles both counties, according to the Environmental Working Group. Of those, 207 claims have been filed since 2003. At Mojave National Preserve in eastern San Bernardino County, 2,486 claims are within 10 miles; 670 have been filed since 2003.

Statewide, 21,365 claims are within 10 miles of federal public lands, the group said.

Bill Walker, vice president of the environmental group's West Coast office in Oakland, said Monday that the group analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees mining activity.

Legislation has been introduced to update the Hardrock Mining Law of 1872, and the group wants the buffer zone to be included and land managers given power to weigh whether the mines would be harmful to the environment. The buffer zone is needed, Walker said, to protect the landscape and reduce the chance of damage to wildlife habitat and water sources from toxic waste.

The House Resources Committee is scheduled on Thursday to mark up the legislation, introduced by the committee chairman, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va.

Joe Zarki, chief of interpretation at Joshua Tree National Park, said park officials aren't aware of any current claims that are a threat. He said the Bureau of Land Management typically allows the National Park Service to comment on anything nearby.

"We're always concerned about issues along our borders that might possibly impact resources, whether it's the air, wildlife or vegetation," he said.

Robert Waiwood, geologist with the bureau for the California desert district, said most claims are for gold and that most don't become active mines. The district's only large, open-pit operation, he said, is in Imperial County.

Walker said he's concerned about the few claims that do become active.

"If just a few did," he said, "they would have quite an impact."

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the Formosa Mine in Oregon to the nation's Superfund list. Mining activities released copper, zinc and other metals into the headwaters of two creeks and severely degraded 18 miles of stream habitat, the EPA said.

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