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The New Gold Rush: Surge in Mining Claims Threatens California’s National Parks & Wilderness

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, October 15, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 – A modern-day Gold Rush is threatening California’s national parks, national monuments, wilderness and roadless areas.

In the last four years, metals mining claims near national parks and other federally protected public lands soared above 21,000, with more than one-third filed since July 2003, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation of U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) records. Many of these claims are in locations that would threaten or destroy critical water resources, landscapes, or habitat if developed as mines.

BLM data show 21,365 claims within 10 miles of these public lands, with 7,390 staked since July 2003. Currently, there are almost 3,300 claims within 10 miles of national parks in California. EWG’s report, with detailed Google Maps showing the rapid growth in claims near Yosemite, Death Valley, Joshua Tree and other treasured public lands, is online at ewg.org.

Metals mining is the leading source of toxic pollution in the U.S., and under the archaic 1872 Mining Law, federal land managers have almost no power to stop mining once a claim is staked. The impact of large mining operations – huge open pits, acid mine drainage, air and water pollution– is typically much worse than other industries such as logging or oil and gas exploration.

“If just a handful of these thousands of claims already staked turn into major mines it could have devastating impacts on California’s national parks and other natural treasures,” said Dusty Horwitt, public lands analyst at EWG. “The threat is real, and with metal prices soaring and worldwide demand growing, it increases every day.”

This Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to mark up mining reform legislation. Horwitt called the legislation “the best opportunity in more than a decade to bring mining policies in line with the rules that govern other extractive industries on public lands.”

EWG’s investigation of BLM records found:

  • Almost 3,300 mining claims within 10 miles of national parks in California, with 1,093 in the last four years. More than 2,170 are within 10 miles of Death Valley; 525 near Joshua Tree and 285 near Yosemite.
  • More than 14,400 claims within 10 miles of wilderness areas including the Ansel Adams, John Muir, Trinity Alps and Desolation Wilderness, with more than 4,200 in the last four years.
  • More than 11,300 claims within 10 miles of federally designated roadless areas – crucial to clean water supplies for many municipal watersheds – including the Tahoe Forest, Stanislaus Forest, and Humboldt-Toyiabe Forest roadless areas, with more than 4,600 in the last four years. Almost 1,500 claims are actually inside these roadless areas.
  • More than 260 claims within 10 miles of National Monuments, including 41 near Sequoia National Monument.

(Note: Because some areas overlap, the total number of claims is less than the sum of claims near each area.)

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group’s research on mining is available online at http://www.ewg.org/featured/18.

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