July 21, 2022
Conglomerate Mesa (Joshua Trees! Desert Ecosystems! Gold Mining!) with Wendy Schneider
When I first heard about Conglomerate Mesa, located on BLM land right outside of Death Valley, I had no idea how much ground a single episode could cover. This one's got everything, including what makes a place a desert, a little bit of geology, Joshua trees, the General Mining Act of 1872, juniper pinyon ecosystems, the rain shadow effect, a very lovable, fuzzy-tailed rodent, a daisy that is only found on about one square mile of the entire planet, soil that is alive, the historic and contemporary importance of this mesa to Native people, and the fight to keep a Canadian gold mining company from quite literally digging the whole place up and spraying cyanide all over it.
Some useful links:
Friends of the Inyo
Center for Biological Diversity on Conglomerate Mesa
Cyanide Use in Gold Mining
National Geographic on Deserts
1961 UC Berkeley Video on Native People Processing Pine Nuts
What is the Great Basin?
Smithsonian Article on Joshua Trees
"Big Four" American Deserts
Sierra Club on Conglomerate Mesa
Inyo Rock Daisy LA Times Article
You can find me on Patreon at www.patreon.com/michellefullner
Follow me on Instagram or TikTok @goldenstatenaturalist
My website is www.goldenstatenaturalist.com
The theme song is called "i dunno" by grapes and can be found here.
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Conglomerate Mesa with Wendy Schneider
Note: This transcript was generated by a robot and not reviewed by a human. I hope it's still helpful!
mesa, conglomerate, desert, people, mining, area, land, naturalist, joshua, gold, trees, water, cyanide, basin, wendy, episode, moth, formed, california, coyote
Hello and welcome to Golden State naturalist, a podcast for anyone who's ever been driving along in the desert and gotten so excited to see their first Joshua Tree that they yelled out loud in their car, only to realize moments later that they had just catcalled a plant. I'm Michelle Fullner. And today I'll be talking with windy Schneider about a very special slice of California desert called conglomerate Mesa on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. And folks buckle up because today's episode has everything including what makes a place a desert, a little bit of geology, Joshua trees, the general mining act of 1872 Juniper opinion ecosystems, the RainShadow effect a very lovable, fuzzy tailed rodent, a daisy that is only found on about one square mile of the entire planet soil that is alive the historic and contemporary importance of this Mesa to Native people and the fight to keep a Canadian gold mining company from quite literally digging up the whole place and spraying cyanide all over it. Really quick. Before we get to that, did you know that you can directly support Golden State naturalist by becoming a patron, you can help out for as little as $4 a month. And you can get all kinds of behind the scenes extras and bonus content, the $4 helps more than you know for someone who creates this podcast completely independently, including researching, writing, reaching out and traveling for interviews, recording, editing, and promoting or also just really a lot of emails. Now just to be clear, I'm fortunate to have a great community of friends, family and enthusiastic listeners around me. But when it comes to actually making the podcast, it's a one woman show. And it would be amazing to hit my next Patreon goal, which is to cover the cost of making the show that cost averages out to about $250 a month. Right now there are 22 generous souls on Patreon totaling about $135 a month. That means that I just need to make 115 more per month to meet my goal. It's not that much right. And I would reach that goal if just 10 more people signed up to be $12 patrons or 29 people signed up as $4 a month patrons either way, all those people together would only fill a city bus to less than 50% capacity. Everyone can have a chair. Is this a helpful way to visualize numbers of people? I don't know. But if you want to be part of helping me reach that goal and get all of the cool extras I mentioned before, you can find me at www.patreon.com/michelle Fullner. That's Michelle with two L's and Fullner is fu ll en er, also thank you to everyone who has been sharing this podcast with your friends, colleagues, Instagram followers, subreddits Facebook groups and friendly neighborhood science teachers last week, Golden State naturalist to the top 100 Science podcasts for the entire United States that's among every single science podcast that's on Apple podcasts in the country. So it was listed on the same page as shows that are made by companies like oh, you know, NPR, BBC Vox now Golden State naturalist topped out at number 93. But I don't feel bad about that, because I don't think many of those companies are out there making these shows about wearing the same Christmas pajamas they've been in since December and in their bedroom after their kids are asleep. Anyway, that's access is all possible because you're out there telling other people about this show and leaving ratings and reviews on Apple podcasts or Spotify or wherever you listen, which helps the show climb up in the charts where more people can discover it. If you're liking the show, please keep sharing with others and leave a rating or review. If you haven't had the chance to do that yet. The more you share rate and review, the more people get to learn about the natural world around them. And the more people who learn about it, the more people will care about taking care of it. If you want to see what outdoorsy things am up to you can find me on social media at Golden State naturalist on both Instagram and Tiktok. My website is www dot Golden State naturalist.com You can also find a link to my Patreon account there if that's easier to remember. One last thing before we get to the episode, I wanted to remind you that this is episode number 11 out of 12 and season one so after this there's just one episode left until the season break. I will still be busy working on the podcast during that time mainly traveling across the state to record interviews, turning those interviews into episodes and finally getting merch up and running. But now let's get to the episode when he Schneider is the executive director of Friends of the Inyo a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and caring for the lands of the Eastern Sierra Also fun fact Friends of the India was formed the year that I was born in 1986 when he started with them much more recently. However, after moving to Mammoth from Los Angeles in 2014. Wendy is a lawyer and she was doing meaningful work and employment law in LA but after moving to Mammoth and spending more time outdoors there she decided to shift her efforts to protecting the truly stunning landscapes around her. So without further ado, let's hear from Wendy Schneider on Golden State naturalist
conglomerate's simply refers to the kind of rock that is found all over the mesa. And it was formed by specific geologic processes that make it it kind of looks almost like it's manmade, like it's cement with like amalgam at pieces in it. And unfortunately, it is an indicator for the presence of gold. And the Mesa is just the the geologic formation this you know, at some point way, way back millions of years ago, this piece of land rose up above the land around it. So it says a classic Mesa in the desert.
After windy explained this, I was curious about how conglomerate was formed. So I looked it up and I was very surprised by what I found. Let me read you the summary from geology.com. It says conglomerates often begin with a sediment consisting mainly of Pebble and cobble size class is being deposited. The finer size sand and clay which fill in the spaces between the larger class is often deposited later on top of the large class and then sits down between them to fill the interstitial spaces. After compaction. The precipitation of a chemical cement between the grains will bind to the sediment into a rock. It also says these conditions were found in streams, lakes and oceans in many parts of the world. So basically, in what is now a desert, we've got a kind of rock that needed water to be formed. Of course, I wanted to know more about this. So I found a Sierra Club page explaining why conglomerate Mesa is so geologically important. Here's what it says. conglomerate Mesa is the key the Rosetta Stone for unraveling the evolution of the ancient coastline of the southwestern United States from the Permian through the early Triassic 300 to 247 million years ago. The Mesa consists of a sequence of strata that represent a complete geologic record during this time. The early Permian strata at conglomerate Mesa are particularly important because they are not duplicated anywhere else. There are fossil beds in the sequence that can be dated by the unique fossils within them. viewsa linnets, pointing with calcite shells conodonts Ancient eels and corals, three new generic and 12 new species of the fusel winodws are endemic to the conglomerate Mesa area found nowhere else, none of the fuselage did survive the Permian extinction. So these are the only beds that contain them. And then according to National Geographic Masons are formed by erosion when water washes smaller and softer types of rocks away from the top of a hill. The strong durable rock that remains on top of a mesa is called Caprock. mesas are usually found in dry regions where rock layers are horizontal. So what we have now is an ancient seabed up above the current desert floor in the eastern part of California, right outside of Death Valley, which by the way, was also a warm, shallow sea 300 million years ago. This is all now a couple of 100 miles away from the current California coast. If you're interested in all of this, definitely go check out episode one of this podcast because my guest, Nate Manley does a great job giving a zoomed out explanation of how California was formed. Needless to say, this area now looks pretty different from how it looked hundreds of millions of years ago, what is the ecosystem here? Right? Because it's like on the border land of the Mojave Desert and the Great Basin, is that right?
Yeah, we're sitting right now and leaf flat, surrounded by really 1000s of Joshua trees, healthy Joshua trees. And yeah, this is definitely a great basin ecosystem.
Okay, so I'm very sorry. But I'm about to inflict on you the kind of confusion that I am also suffering from. So sometimes, and I didn't know this when I asked Wendy, this question. But sometimes when people say Great Basin, they mean the way that water drains, right. So there's this whole area that encompasses a whole bunch of states like parts of Idaho and Oregon, and most of Nevada and Utah, and a little eastern part of California, that does not drain into the sea. And so there's this water drainage situation that goes into this big basin, it's called the Great Basin. But then sometimes when people talk about the Great Basin, they're talking about a desert that is roughly equivalent to that area, but not exactly. And then there's also the Great Basin, floristic province, and the Great Basin culture area. So there's a lot of ways that people talk about the Great Basin. And I didn't realize that I was being confusing by asking about this also, just to make things more confusing. The National Park Service has a page about three different definitions of the Great Basin, which includes a map, and on that map, there are outlines of the perimeters of each of those great basin definitions, or what is actually called Basin and Range, which is the more geological way of looking at it. And all of these outlines overlap with each other, but also the Basin and Range stretches all the way into Mexico, like pretty far into Mexico. So I'm not sure which definition Wendy had in mind. But if we're just talking about desert conglomerate Mesa seems to sit right along the transition zone between the Great Basin desert and the Mojave Desert, and the abundance of Joshua trees points toward a Mojave ecosystem. Okay, thank you for going on that journey with me. Hopefully that was clarifying rather than confusing. There will be a little bit more about what makes it desert, a desert, as well as an overview of the deserts of North America a little bit later in the episode,
we are here at about four or 5000 feet. Now when you go over to the mesa, you have may have noticed there was a Pinyon Juniper forest on the way in, and that is really typical for this part of California at elevations over 5000 feet. And then as you saw as we got up to the saddle of the mesa, that thinned out a lot, right, like we just had a lot of cacti, a lot of small desert flowers and more Joshua trees.
Yeah. And it was a great mix. And the the cacti that you're talking about were so little, that I think that if somebody hadn't pointed them out initially, you might not have noticed them.
Yeah. And there's a lot of different kinds of there. Well, there's a handful of different kinds. There are Beavertail cactus, and there are fishhook cactus are pretty common up there. And the fish oak are the ones that you probably remember that are really small, over the retailer a little bit.
Okay, cool. Yeah, I have to look up pictures and see what I heard. See what I looked at before. So before we sat down for this interview, Wendy and I, and about 20 Other people had gone up to conglomerate Mesa and I didn't record when we were up there, because in my experience recording around a bit group just doesn't work very well. But the cactus that I had seen was a beaver tail. I think it was just kind of a small example of one. Also, I think that in my imagination, I was comparing it to like saguaro cacti that you see, you know, in Arizona, those really tall ones that look like a dude standing with his arms at 90 degree angles, so much, much smaller than that, but not as tiny as the fishhook ones that Wendy's talking about. But the beaver tails are really cute. They really do just look like somebody stuck a beaver tail into the dirt. What are some of your favorite plants and animals that can be found here?
Oh, wow. That's that's a great question. I would say that my favorite plant that is found here is the Joshua Tree. And it is a keystone species in the desert. It provides food and habitat shelter for lots of creatures from insects, to reptiles to birds. So it's very important, both alive and dead, you know that the live ones provide their flowers provide some of the only water available in the spring to birds and and mammals and also insects and then their their dead bodies provide habitat and shelter for reptiles and hunting grounds. So, and I just really love they're kind of beautiful strangeness. Uh huh.
Yeah, they're every one is different. They're so unique, and they're sort of just quirky. And Dr. Susi?
Yeah, they're Yeah, they're really quirky. And that's a really good word for them. And I just love that about them. They're, they're playful, and they're timeless to Joshua trees have been around for millions of years.
Oh, really. Another cool thing about Joshua trees is their relationship with this moth called the yucca moth that fertilizes them. And according to Smithsonian Magazine, Charles Darwin deemed this the most wonderful case of fertilization ever published. I don't know why that's his accent. But it goes on to say that without nectar to attract pollinators, Joshua trees rely solely on this unassuming moth for pollination. Yucca moths use their dexterous jaw appendages to collect pollen from Joshua trees and deposit it on the female parts of each flower. As the moth moves between blooms. In turn, the moth lays her eggs with its thin bleed like ovipositor on the flower seeds when they hatch, the yucca moth caterpillars eat the seeds their only food source before crawling to the ground to form cocoons, and the cycle begins again. The article also says that this relationship is unlike anything else in the natural world. Most pollinators accidentally assist the plants they pollinate birds and bees will brush up against pollen while they're feeding on the flowers nectar spreading it from plant to plant as they continue with these feast, not Yucca moths because their caterpillars depend on the continued existence of Joshua trees and their tasty seeds. The yucca moths pollination is an active active survival. Moreover, this partnership has been going on for millions of years. But I also wanted to know what else lives on and around conglomerate mesa. How about animals? Do you have any favorites that I mean? It's kind of hard to see them out here. They're so widely spread out, right? Like, yeah, we're seeing animals out here.
Yeah, yeah, we do. But you will only see them at dawn and at dusk, and we won't see them because we have a group of like 25 people and they are very aware that we are here and they will stay away. But two of my favorites are I love the pack rat. So pack rat is another species that's been around for, you know, 1000s and 1000s of years and they build these awesome nests in the desert using all kinds of materials. They make piles of rocks or piles of sticks and honestly Yeah, they're they're in there. They're super reclusive. You don't see them but you see Their nests everywhere.
pack rats, to me look a little bit like a mix between a hamster and a rat. They're really cute. And they have fuzzy tails.
And then also one of just my all time favorites. And it is a big Lotus now in the United States is the coyote. But this is a place where coyotes really belong. And they really thrive here. And as you saw on our hike today, we saw a lot of coyote scat, and they're very at home here in the desert hunting rodents. And yeah, and this is where they belong, not in cities, going through people's garbage.
Right? Yeah. And it's, that's so true. This is how I imagined coyotes to live. Like I feel like if I were gonna make a postcard with a coyote on it, this would be the background, to know the mountains and the Joshua trees in this sort of desert environment. If you want to learn more about coyotes, including how they're now living more and more in urban areas, definitely check out a few episodes ago, the coyote episode of Golden State naturalist because we talk about that in that episode. There are definitely problems with coexisting with wild animals in our cities. But I've also heard an argument that we should make an effort to do so. And I think that's a whole discussion that there's not really time for right now. But I think it's an interesting topic. I note too, that there are a couple of tribes that historically and even in now continue to use this area. Right. Can you tell me a little more about that? Yeah,
absolutely. Yeah. There are two tribes that timber Shah Shoshone and the Paiute Shoshone, particularly the Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone, that for whom conglomerate Mesa is really sacred ground. And for 1000s Probably in the case of the timber Shoshone, probably for more than 10,000 years, they have used the Mesa for hunting and for ceremony and for gathering the Pinyon nuts. And both tribes, though have used it for 1000s of years before the white settlers came in. There are a lot of native cultural resources up there, like arrowheads, spear tips, grinding stones, you know, things like that, you know, evidence, their occupation.
When I asked Wendy more about this, she wasn't sure if she was remembering the location correctly. Or if it was somewhere other than conglomerate Mesa that grinding stones had been found. I looked into it further, and I couldn't confirm that exact spot as having had the stones. But what he did find is that people native to the Eastern Sierra and Great Basin in general have been using flat stones to grind Pinyon nuts for time immemorial. So I'd be really surprised if they weren't also present at conglomerate Mesa, I actually just sat and watched a whole video that was made by UC Berkeley back in 1961, about this process, and it's very cool, the nuts have to be taken out of the cones, and then they're still inside of individual shells. So the grinding stones are used to crack those before, they're later used to grind down the nuts into a powder, which is then usually consumed in the form of a drink after being mixed with water. I'm condensing that a lot. So definitely go check out that video. If you have a few extra minutes, I'll put the YouTube link in the show notes. In just a minute, we're gonna get to so much more great information about vulnerable desert species, some of the history of gold mining in California and how that has changed over the years, the current threat to conglomerate Mesa and a whole lot more. So stick around for that. But first while you're here, I wanted to let you know that I'm going to be attending the UC California naturalist statewide conference in Tahoe City this October 7 through ninth and I would love to see you there. You don't have to be a California naturalist to attend the conference, which is going to have some amazing speakers including Obi Kauffman, who is an artist and poet who has authored several field atlases of the state, the most recent of which is called the coast of California. And then there will be Jose Gonzalez, founder of Latino Outdoors. He's also an artist and a writer and has public school teacher routes, which I love. I'll have a table at the communities of practice session of the conference and we'll be sharing about my experiences making this podcast so come talk to me, you may even end up being a featured soundbite in a future episode. So hope to see you there. Okay, now just a quick break.
Now, back to my conversation with Wendy, what about like vulnerable species here at the Mesa Do you know like if there's particular kinds of either plants or animals that are maybe only found here or?
Yes, absolutely. So the Joshua Tree that we've already been discussing is a vulnerable species. And I'm sure everybody has heard at this point that they are disappearing from Joshua Tree National Park.
I had not heard this before this trip
sometime in the next 50 to 100 years. There may not be any more there. They only live 90 to 100 years so you know if they're not reproducing See now, that's already a problem. And we have both here on the flat where we are right now and up on the mesa. There are clearly lots of baby and juvenile Joshua trees. But there are five species of that we know of a rare desert plants on the mesa. Yeah. And we believe that the proposed mining exploration activities that this Canadian company wants to do would negatively impact the species. And we believe that at least two of them don't exist anywhere else. ones of those the Inyo rock Daisy, and I can't remember the first part of the name, but it's a thread plant. It's a common name and they're they're probably, you know, we don't know for sure yet, but they're probably endemic to the Mesa and we need to make every effort to protect them.
So I'm not sure about the thread plant, but I did get to see the Inyo rock Daisy when I was there, a conglomerate myself when I saw it, it had already bloomed. But the dried out stalks of flowers looked to me sort of like spent fireworks. It's sort of like those smoke trails that you see in the sky after the fireworks are gone. In photos when they're blooming. They just look like these really cute little petite bright yellow flowers. And I was doubly lucky because it was shown to me by Maria he Sue's the botanist who is working so hard to protect this flower right now she was featured in an LA Times article stating that this obscure Daisy occupies less than a cumulative square mile of the Earth's surface. It's only found on conglomerate Mesa and in one other location. And Maria Hey Soos is quoted somewhere else saying this sweet little flower is incredibly rare and nearly every population is found on mining claims
you saw as you were up there. It's really rugged terrain. You know, it's it's got you know, lots of rock outcroppings and little mini canyons and ravines and yeah, and there's a there are a lot of species that love it there.
Yeah, there's and there's so many different kinds of microhabitats I feel like because you've got all these different aspects. And you've got shady places behind rocks, and you've got different kinds of trees. And so even though there's not that much water, you think of it as being a little bit more harsh of an environment. There's still so many little micro habitats.
Absolutely. And there are the rock that you saw up there, you know, it's really variated in its surface, and it catches water. So you know, at certain times of the year, you know, snow will melt in there and there will be a little bit of water. But yeah, it does provide a you know, lots of nooks and crannies and niches for creatures. So there are there's a species of bat that Townsend figured that that is pretty rare. It exists in other places, but it does well on the mesa. And there are lots of lizards, especially the western fence lizard. There are lots of those up on the Mason we also know people have seen bobcats and mountain lions, and there are deer up there we saw a lot of deer scat today, I didn't see any actual deer but so it's a very vibrant place. You know, one thing about the desert is it doesn't have the density of life that you would find like you know, on an eastern seaboard ecosystem, like in a forest or something. It's you know, it's a harsh environment, as you mentioned before, but that doesn't mean that it's any less alive. There are lots of plants and animals that rely on the mesa, you know, it's their home.
Let's talk about deserts. Okay, so what exactly is a desert National Geographic Society says that most experts agree that a desert is an area of land that receives no more than 10 inches of precipitation a year. The amount of evaporation in the desert often greatly exceeds the annual rainfall. It also points out that we often think of these big sand dunes when we think of deserts, but that's only representing about 10% of the world's deserts. So some are dry expanses of rock, sand or salt flats. There's also tons of mountain areas that are also deserts. We have four deserts here in North America, Great Basin, Mojave, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran. And according to desert museum.org, all but the Sonoran have cold winters often including snowfall, and the reason why conglomerate Mesa and Death Valley right beside it are desert is because of something called the rain shadow effect. You might already be familiar with this, but if you're not, here's a little explanation for you. According to that same National Geographic page RainShadow deserts exist near the leeward or opposite of the wind facing slopes of some mountain ranges. So when moisture laden air hits a mountain range, it is forced to rise the air then cools and forms clouds that drop moisture on the windward slopes. So when the air moves over the mountaintop and begins to descend to the leeward slopes, there's little moisture left, the descending air warms up making it difficult for clouds to form. So basically, when that wet air comes across the Sierra Nevada as it drops all the water on the western side of the mountain range, and by the time it gets to the eastern side, there's not a whole lot of water left in that air. But as Wendy points out even though there's not a lot of water, there is still a lot of life. Right? And right now just looking out, it's It's low. And it's not like looking into a forest right or like you talked about somewhere in the east on the east coast where there's all of this precipitation, but like, there is life everywhere I look absolutely are these sage was yes, like, okay,
And yeah, you see they're everywhere. Tons of them. Yeah, they cover
the ground. And just because they're not big and green, and leafy doesn't mean they're any less alive. They are adapted to this climate.
Yeah, and even in a drought, they're hanging in there. Yeah, just yeah, they're gonna,
they will, they'll weather this. They're used to it.
So what kind of recreation? Are people out here? A lot, kind of? What do people do out here?
Yeah, um, people do recreate in this area a lot. And some of them. One of the primary recreation activities out here is simply seeking solitude. You know, it's a remote place. And that is one of the great things about it. And one of the things that we want to protect is that you can come out here and have a lot of open space to yourself. People also come out here to enjoy the dark desert skies. It is an internationally rated dark sky location. And so there is very little light from any artificial source that you will see at night. And we're going to see some fantastic dark skies tonight. People also come to hunt, you can get a hunting license on the mesa. And it is I understand a kind of a prize to tag to get a deer tag to be able to hunt on conglomerate by Yep. Not they don't give out a lot of them. They don't give out a lot of them. And then And yeah, so people come to hike, they come to watch birds. There are wrapped all kinds of raptors that that are on the mesa. And yeah, those are the things that those are most of the things people do. I've also seen people mountain biking out here, not up on the mesa itself. But on the you know, those remote dirt roads that are around it. I've seen that
a couple of times. That seems like it would be a lot of fun, because there are some crazy roads, which you better
know what you're doing and some water and some food because it's a long way from anywhere. And if you get a flat tire on a bike, I just hope people are prepared. Yeah. You
don't want to be stranded out there for sure. So you've mentioned a couple of times this mining operation that's being talked about. So can you just tell me kind of like, I guess the the story, right? What's the overview? How did that all come to begin? And then and then how did that progress? And where are we at now?
Yes, absolutely. So unfortunately, the current mining threat is the 11th mining threat that has threatened this area in recent decades and poor conglomerate mesa. Unfortunately, it is heavily mineralized. And, but it's not gold that exists like in a vein that you can like scoop out.
Just a quick side note here that if you want to hear more about gold mining in California, it is mentioned in the salmon episodes of Golden State naturalist, but I would really love to do a full episode about gold mining and the environmental impacts because a lot of it involved in mercury, which is a heavy metal, and so it is still in our waterways today. And also involves blasting away entire hills with powerful jets of water called hydraulic mining that put all kinds of sediment into our waterways that really shouldn't have been there and gum things up. So gold mining in California has a pretty dark history environmentally. And this new form of gold mining doesn't seem a whole lot,
but the gold is in the soil. And what's called a Carlin deposit. And this Karlen deposit is part of a larger deposit called the walker line that stretches from the center of Nevada right down to where we are, this is pretty much the southern terminus of it. And we are fighting to other mining threats, you know, along this line, but so the gold is in the soil and to get at it, you have to do a cyanide heap leach process that is just the current state of the technology. So we really and you know, as you can imagine, that introduces a lot of toxicity.
What is that? Can you explain that process a little bit?
Yeah, so what you have to do to execute this process is to basically explode or scrape up the part of the dirt that you want to leech the gold out of so they would just completely instead of a mesa, it would become a pit, it would just take all the dirt there and and kill everything that's in it or on it and run it through a cyanide solution. And then they are able to what leeches out, you know, after they run it through, they're able to separate the gold out and take it and just for reference in Montana, which is a very mining friendly state. Cyanide heap leaching has been outlawed since the 80s. And that was done by a state referendum and because it creates toxicity that is just not remediable. It just never is. And so you have this toxic like, you know, just a devoid of life area forever.
They say that there's like mitigation, what does that look like? And it sounds like you're saying that's not effective.
I'm saying it's absolutely not effective. reclamation is what they call it. And it's a total joke. I mean, in the desert, the soil is alive. And so you see, we're sitting here right now and the wind is blowing and the soil doesn't move. And that's because it's It's alive. It's got micro organisms in it that support the plant and the animal life. They're here, while you take all of this soil, and you sift it through a cyanide solution, and you pile it back up so that it looks sort of like it used to, it's still dead, and it will cause dust problems, and it will not support plant and animal life probably for 1000s of years.
Wow. And I feel like now that that makes so much sense. We're learning so much about like, even in our own bodies, like the microbiome, right? And how we are not one person, we are like multitudes, right, like,
or billions, even the Google tells me it's 100 trillion. And we couldn't even like digest our food, right, without those microbes in our gut. And so if the same thing is happening in the soil, and you kill that, then then you're killing the land itself.
Yes, absolutely. And all the life that depends on it. Like it's just it's such a bad trade. And this, you know, exploration activity, it's for a gold mine. Well, we don't need any more gold to be mined. It is true that we use some gold in things like electronics and medical instruments. But it is also true, that enough gold to fulfill all foreseeable uses has already been mined. And it is sitting in bullion bars and vaults all over the world. So we need to start utilizing that gold and it's endlessly recyclable. It never gets destroyed, there is no need to mine any more gold. So this company, which isn't from around here, you know, I don't hate Canadians or anything, but it's a Canadian company. And the real money that might be made from this project wouldn't stay in in your county wouldn't stay in California, wouldn't you stay in the United States, it would go to this Canadian company. And mining companies are notorious for just hiring a few people at minimum wage jobs coming in tearing up the land, declaring bankruptcy and leaving and that's what they do is leave a big mess behind. They don't care about this place. They don't care about the life that they've destroyed. They just want their money.
It's a little bit late, and I'm getting philosophical. So please forgive me for this interjection. But it just occurs to me that money really is a fiction. It's an agreed upon fiction, because we agree on it, it has value. And gold is like that the value of gold except for the ways that we can actually use it for electronics and things like that is just an agreed upon fiction, but land is inherently valuable. And it seems frankly crazy to me to trade something with inherent value that supports life and is life and contains life for something that everyone just says is worth something. And and I think I read to I don't know if it was on the website, or what about just like how little gold they would actually get out of each tonne of Earth.
Yes, it's alarming. And I'm not an expert on cyanide heap leaching but, but Paul Schoch, our board member who's going to talk later, he has become an expert on this process. Yeah, it's ridiculous.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, because of prior exploration in the area, we know that the mind would produce less than half an ounce of gold from each tonne of rock.
The reason this is happening now is because the price of gold is high and has been high. And that's why a company thinks that it might be profitable to exploit,
right? Because it doesn't even sound like if it doesn't sound like it would be profitable, right? Like I would hear those numbers and be like, Whoa, that probably takes a lot of heavy equipment that would cost a lot more money than would make it worth doing that process at all. Yeah,
absolutely. And one of the biggest tragedies is it leaves the mining process leaves a pit lake. And the pit lakes are notoriously you know, super, super toxic. All this stuff is leaching out of these piles of tailings and and you know, we're in the desert and water attracts wildlife and the wildlife come and they get poisoned. And yeah, it's very sad. And I understand that the people of Southern Inyo County are seeking greater economic prosperity and friends of the Inyo definitely wants to help with that. And we believe that rather than exploiting conglomerate Mesa in a way that creates a lot of toxicity and destroys a lot of life, it should be protected and enjoyed in a sustainable way for the beautiful desert ecosystem that it is and in your county definitely relies on recreational tourism as the mainstay of its economy. And you know, having a big mind here belching dust, and light and noise 24/7 is simply inconsistent with that. Instead, we would like to see it become a protected area that people come and visit for its value, you know, as a beautiful desert Mesa
that will continue to have value more than just a few years down the road. Exactly. Gold has gone. Exactly sustainable, sustainable practice. You know, one of the other impacts I was curious about was whether or not there was a fungal network underground connecting the Joshua trees. So in the previous episode, there was a little discussion about the fungal network connecting the Giant Sequoias and this symbiotic relationship between it and the trees and I was curious about whether or not Joshua trees had a similar situation going on. So windy wasn't sure, but I asked Maria Hey Soos later on, and she said that yes, there is a fungal network connecting the Joshua trees. So that is something that would also be lost if the soil were killed in this cyanide heap leaching process. What is Friends of the NGO doing? What are some of the efforts to stop the mining? Yeah, absolutely.
So we are organizing strongly to oppose any efforts to do an exploratory drilling for a goldmine or to open a goldmine. And we do that through this is a Bureau of Land Management managed lands. So in order for the mining company to be able to move forward, they have to get a permit. And in that process, there is you know, places where the public can comment. So we submit detailed comments with all of our expert partners, so that we make sure the BLM understands all of the reasons that this is a really bad idea, we organize with the tribes. So make sure that the tribes voices are heard by BLM is that everybody understands that the tribes don't want to see this happen. And we organize with the local community, encouraging people to write letters, write emails, make phone calls, we organized the demonstration. So that BLM knows that the people of the area do not want this to happen. So that's the organizing that we're doing to oppose the mining project. And then we are also moving forward in a coalition, we work with other local groups and national groups in a coalition, we are moving forward with trying to obtain permanent protection for this area, the permanent protection, any kind of permanent protection that we could get actually would not extinguish existing valid mining claims, which is a bummer, there's really no way to do that, except to buy them. So but it does add layers of complexity kind of creates a headwind, you know, a stronger headwind that the mining company would have to push against, to be able to do a project if it were designated, for example, as a national monument, or a National Scenic Area, or become part of Death Valley National Park, like those are all things that have been discussed. But the coalition hasn't decided really the best way to proceed yet. But we, we want to obtain permanent protection so that people can enjoy it for what it is recreationally rather than having it torn up by completely useless and unnecessary mining process.
When do these claims date back to?
Oh, they date back to the 1800s? Oh, wow. Yeah, a long, long time ago, when when the guys were coming out with the pic in the burrow.
So they were coming in making their claims? And because that's one of the things I was curious about is, I mean, I'm just learning about all of this. And, and I was kind of surprised when I found out that it was BLM land, and that they could come in and do that. And so, I mean, there's no, the claim predates everything is that kind of what you're saying. And so it doesn't matter what kind of land it's on.
Correct. And, and one of the big problems is the 1872 mining law, which you might have heard mentioned. So in keeping with its name, it was passed in 1872, which was a really long time ago, when things were really different than they are now. And the law was intended to, it was kind of part of manifest destiny, and allowing people to, you know, move out to the West and, you know, exploit the land in whatever way possible, you know, extraction was really encouraged at that time. And this law sought to make it easy to, you know, stake a claim and to start extracting things of value. So unfortunately, gigantic foreign mining companies are using the 1872 mining law to be able to come in and exploit our resources. And by the way, gold and other hardrock metals, they don't have to pay any kind of tax or royalty recently, US government. Yeah, isn't that crazy?
So a foreign company can just come in and be like,
they take this valuable stuff out of our land and just peace. Yeah, they're in leave a big mess, and they're off with it. But in spite of that, like there's a group earthworks that we work with, they've been working for 40 years to get, you know, amendments to the 1872 mining law through Congress with no luck so far, but they're still trying, there are bills in both the House and the Senate right now, that would, you know, be improvements. But that's the root of the problem is that there's a presumption in favor of allowing the the mining activity to go forward. And we have to show that it's illegal, basically, that there are too many things on the other side. And there's a lot of buttons that we can push ecological buttons, you know, buttons with the community, you know, things of that nature to beat it back.
Right. It's sort of this very dated mentality that was codified. Yes. And then just never modified. Yes. Make a little rhyme.
To make a little write about it. I think that's accurate.
Yeah. Yeah. What can a listener do to help the situation or to get involved to protect? I mean, this area and potentially also other areas? Yes,
absolutely. So as I mentioned, you know, this is BLM land and so you know, in order to do their evil activities, the mining exploration company has to get a permit and Don't we have a website, it's protect conglomerate mesa.com. And you can sign up for our newsletter. It's free. And we will let you know when the next comment period opens. And you can make your voice heard and say, you know, it's not appropriate to destroy conglomerate Mesa for a mining exploration.
Do you have to be from in your county to do that? Or does it matter? Can you be from the state
or No, it doesn't, you don't even have to be from the United States. Actually, I guess it's better if you are, but you certainly don't have to be from Inyo County or California, these are public lands. These are lands that are managed by the federal government, and they belong to everybody in the United States, not just to local people. But you've hit on an interesting thing there. It does seem just in practice, that local opposition is something that BLM that pays a lot of attention to okay, you know, yes, there's nothing like, legally to like back that up as to why that should be true. But yeah, it's harder
to deal with something that's right in front of you. Maybe that's part of it, right? Yeah.
And maybe there's just a feeling that, hey, this area is in in your county's backyard, like, you know, let's listen to it. It's their, it's their land they live here, you know, they're the ones that are going to bear the burden of the noise and the dust and the lights and, you know, the other effects on communities that this would have.
Right? And do you know, to with the gaming, you talked about a lot of it the negative impacts of the cyanide, the mining, but does that get into groundwater? Or does that pollute like that? Because water is such a limited resource here. Right? Does that impact the surrounding water?
Oh, absolutely. But to be honest, we do not believe there is any groundwater under the mesa. But groundwater pollution is one of the main reasons that a cyanide heap leach mining was outlawed in Montana, because it ruined so many like streams and creeks and and groundwater aquifers, sources of water. So yes, unfortunately, it has a nasty way of filtering through all of the soil and the rock and getting into the water.
Yeah. And then in 100 years, we'll have to come back and bring gold to process and get the cyanide out.
Probably next year, that would just be classic. Yeah.
And so what about as my last question, what about this area? conglomerate Mesa in particular, or just this surrounding desert ecosystem, like still just blows your mind? Or takes your breath away? What
do you love about Yeah, it takes my breath away every time I'm here. And I think a lot of it is this is truly pristine, undeveloped land, and there's not a lot of that left. And it sustains itself, you know, all of the life that it sustains that from the micro organisms in the soil, to the insects, to the plants, to the rodents, to the reptiles, the birds, like it has a thing that it's doing here and sustaining all of this life all on its own, and it doesn't need us at all. In fact, it's a lot better if we would just leave it alone. And I love the beauty of that. It's very complex. You know, and we end there's a mystery to it. We don't understand much at all, about, you know, how how it operates, how it makes that happen. Yeah, so I really love being in the presence of that energy.
That's beautiful. It feels very much bigger than us. Yes. It's a good place to come and feel small. Yeah, in a good way.
Yeah. It's humbling, you know, it's very wise.
Absolutely. All right. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Pleasure. Nice talking to you. Likewise, I usually associate that feeling of awe of knowing how small I am and experiencing wonder with staring up at massive trees. And that is still very much true for me. But being out there in the desert surrounded by Joshua trees, sweeping landscapes, and the wide open sky reminded me that there are many ways to experience that kind of reassuring insignificance. I know it's a little bit far and hard for many of us to access from large population centers where we live. But if you get the chance to go to the desert, take it, I mean, make sure to bring more water than you think you need and pack accordingly. But there really is something special about the stillness and the solitude that can be found out there. It also gets incredibly dark at night, and on this trip to conglomerate Mesa, we stayed up late and just drank in the starry sky. That experience is going to be turned into another episode next season. So keep an ear out for that one. And a big thanks to windy Schneider, Kayla Brown, and everyone at Friends of the Inyo for inviting me along on this trip and welcoming me so warmly. I wholeheartedly endorse these guys. So please, if you're looking for a good cause to support, go and find them at Friends of the in yo.org. Something interesting from my week is that today was my four year olds last day of preschool. She starts transitional kindergarten next month, I really thought I was going to be so ready for my kids to get bigger and more independent and be able to do more things for themselves because I really like to travel and have adventures and want to take them along and I am ready for that. But moments like this are reminders that you can't Go back to a time when they were smaller and needed you more not even to visit. And I don't know how to deal with that. Also on a lighter note, it's really funny that two guests in a row have been named Wendy because I don't know a whole lot of Wendy's other than the cap that I've had for 16 years. So maybe Wendy's come in threes, but you just have to wait a long time. Okay, thanks so much for joining me and for sticking around to the very end of the episode. I'll see you next time on Golden State naturalista bye.
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