FUTURE DESERT COMMITTEE MEETINGS
Unless unexpected circumstances intervene, the next Desert Committee meeting will be held in-person, on February 10 -11, 2024, in Shoshone, CA. This will be a joint meeting with the Sierra Club Wilderness Committee. As the date gets closer, details concerning camping, other accommodations, and the agenda will be announced on the Desert Forum, on the website <www.desertreport.com>, and by email to those who have signed in for meetings in the past. If COVID is deemed to become a hazard, the in-person meeting will be canceled and a virtual zoom meeting will be held instead.
The May 2024 meeting of the Desert Committee will be held by zoom with details available as the time gets closer.
Updates December 2, 2023
Hot Creek: Inyo County
Located outside Mammoth Lakes in Mono County, the Hot Creek Geologic Site in Long Valley had been yet another target for gold mining exploration in the Eastern Sierra. In 2021, the Inyo National Forest granted a categorical exclusion to Kore Mining for a gold exploration project. Friends of the Inyo, along with the Sierra Club Range of Light Group, Center for Biological Diversity, and Western Watersheds Project, sued Kore Mining and the US Forest Service on the grounds that the USFS had improperly granted the permits, ignoring the significant potential environmental impacts to Long Valley. While initial litigation ruled in favor of Kore Mining and USFS, the appeal to a U.S. Circut Court ruled in favor of the conservation groups on August 25, 2023. This ruling had an immediate ruling from the Judges halting exploratory drilling this year. A full judgment will be known within the next few months.
The NEPA process has begun for the Environmental Impact Statement on K2 Gold’s (Mojave Precious Metal) expanded gold exploration proposal on Conglomerate Mesa. The Bureau of Land Management held the first public comment period earlier this year. The 60-day comment period closed on October 16. The 23,000 public comments received during the Environmental Assessment in 2021 are being carried over to the EIS. The next opportunity to comment will be when the draft EIS is released. To stay up to date on engagement opportunities by signing up for the Conglomerate Mesa Coalition’s newsletter at www.ProtrectConglomerateMesa.com.
Gold Exploration in Imperial County
On August 31, 2023 BLM approved the SMP Gold Corp. Oro Cruz gold exploration project in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains of Imperial County. The project would disturb 20 acres in the California Desert Conservation Area and Picacho Area of Critical Environmental Concern. It would desecrate a cultural landscape held sacred by the Quechan Tribe, which includes an ancient trail network that connects the Quechan to their place of creation, Avi Kwa Ame. Despite comments from a coalition of tribal, environmental justice, and conservation organizations asking for a full Environmental Impact Statement to thoroughly analyze and mitigate impacts, the project was approved with only an inadequate Environmental Assessment. We have asked the BLM state director to review this decision, and are hopeful it will be reversed. In the meantime, the project still needs its reclamation plan approved by Imperial County. The planning commission has delayed consideration multiple times due to concerns raised by Quechan Tribal Council members and community leaders about lack of consultation. For more information and updates visit https://earthworks.org/indianpass/
Desert Carbon Sequestration
Carbon sequestration in the desert is an overlooked, under-researched yet critical value both in terms of sheer sequestration capacity, and justification for suitably protecting the desert rather than assuming that covering it with solar panels and/or mining it for minerals represent the best possible uses. Consequently, a science-focused sub-group of the 30 X 30 Inland Deserts Working Group affiliated with the statewide 30 by 30 Power in Nature coalition is urging California Natural Resources Agency [CNRA], California Air Resources Board [CARB], and California Department of Food and Agriculture [CDFA] affiliated staff to read their comprehensive report "Nature Based Solutions: Desert Sector".
Their letter begins with this powerful intro:
The California desert region has been largely overlooked as a significant carbon sink for several reasons. First, the scarce above ground vegetation is visually misleading if one assumes a singular correlation between above ground biomass and carbon sequestration capacity. This misperception is tied to a second reason for overlooking the desert sector: the desert ecosystem primarily sequesters carbon underground. Finally, as an underfunded research ecosystem, the desert sector remains woefully behind its companion ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, chaparral, and wetlands in terms of quantifying, measuring, and modeling carbon sequestration capacity. But there is more than sufficient research to make this salient point: the desert lands of California are a significant carbon sink and must be included in regional and global carbon accounting. Our analysis offers three key takeaway messages:
● The desert’s carbon storage process differs significantly from more widely understood sectors such as forests, grasslands, chaparral, and wetlands.
● Due to the distinct carbon storage process found in the desert ecosystem, there is one recommended strategy to maximize the desert sector’s contribution to carbon emission reduction: it needs to be left undisturbed.
● Large-scale disturbance of deserts, particularly within critical ecosystems such as creosote bajadas and microphyll woodlands, will not only result in the reduction of California's biodiversity, but also in the removal of a long-term carbon sequestration source, releasing calcite carbon that has been stored for millennia.
Specifically, our recommended target for the desert sector is conservation of 100% of undisturbed non-military public lands annually based on current levels, starting in 2024, and that regions displaying higher densities of microphyll woodlands and creosote bajadas be especially prioritized due to their higher capacity for carbon sequestration.
As you would expect, there is a technical paper to substantiate and justify the letter.