Conglomerate Mesa Western Joshua Tree Survey, October 21-23, 2023
Blogpost and Photos
By Jaime Lopez-Wolters,
Friends of the Inyo
Desert Lands Organizer
Conglomerate Mesa has been under threat from mining companies looking to extract gold from its soil since the 1970s. The latest company to try its luck is Canadian firm K2 Gold, through its local subsidiary, Mojave Precious Metals (MPM).
Defenders of the land have always known that the area is special, not in the least because of the thriving high-elevation Western Joshua Tree forest that it harbors. Until recently, the value of these fragile, otherworldly desert plants was not fully recognized under the law, and prior mining explorations unfortunately killed Joshua trees during the course of their work. But this changed when California lawmakers passed the “Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act” on June 27, 2023. The act bans the removal of Joshua trees without a permit, among other protections.
Armed with this new tool, the Conglomerate Mesa Coalition has set out to document all the Joshua trees in the vicinity of MPM’s planned road construction and drill sites, as laid out in their Phase 2 Plan of Operations.
On Saturday, October 21, a small group of coalition members representing the Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps, Friends of the Inyo and the Sierra Club Range of Light Group drove the rough, unpaved road to the south end of Conglomerate Mesa, set up camp and began several days of Joshua tree surveying.
We followed the instructions provided by the California Department of Fish and Game as laid out in this very recent guidance document for conducting a Western Joshua Tree Census.
The idea is to get GPS coordinates, photos and data about tree size and maturity for each Joshua tree within a 15-meter distance from the project area, which in our case was the proposed access road to be constructed by MPM, and the planned drill sites themselves.
We quickly developed a method with three groups made up of two people each. The first two groups searched for new trees, measured them in inches and marked them with aluminum tags, while the third group converted the measurement to meters, gave each tree a unique ID, got GPS coordinates, photographed each tree and digitized the data.
Over the course of three days, we documented 230 Joshua trees in or near the path of the proposed 3.65 miles of road construction and overland travel, with most of them located in the first half-mile. Another 84 Joshua trees were counted along the existing access road. The group also walked the full length of the project area and saw several areas near proposed drill sites that have Joshua trees nearby.
The Joshua trees seemed healthy and were propagating, with many baby Joshua trees among the ones counted and many more beyond our road buffer zone. These beautiful living organisms deserve to live their lives undisturbed by mining activities and we will be sure to help them in every way possible.
A second surveying trip will be planned in the near future.