Conglomerate Mesa

What’s Happening

Nestled between Malpais Wilderness Area, Cerro Gordo Wilderness Study Area, the Owens Lake Bed and Death Valley National Park is Conglomerate Mesa; poised and formidable. These 7,000 acres of roadless BLM terrain are unconfined, rugged, and brimming with rich desert life and cultural history. Yet, despite the many values of this land, Conglomerate Mesa is at the threat of a large scale open pit cyanide gold mine. Before this mine can happen, exploration would be conducted.

In 2018 the gold mining threat took another step towards reality when the BLM completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) permitting exploratory drilling via helicopter access at Conglomerate Mesa. The EA allows for 7 drill holes, each 1,000 feet deep at the mesa. The project requires multiple light rigs operating 24/7 and will consume 1,000 gallons of water a day. The source of water for this project is unknown.

The Conglomerate Mesa claimholders, Steve VanErt and Noel Cousins, have an approved EA, but no company to execute the operations. They will continue to shop their claims in hopes of finding a company with the capacity to conduct the exploration. Once a company is found, they must only put a bond down with the BLM, demonstrating the ability to cover reclamation costs. Other than this, there is no public notice required before exploration starts. With an approved environmental assessment, upheld by the BLM state office, drilling could begin anytime.

In the face of this threat, Friends of the Inyo and our partners are seeking permanent protection of this beloved desert gem. Without it, we will continue to fight perennial battles with mining companies who want to destroy this land.

Why It Matters

Conglomerate Mesa is too special a place to sacrifice to industrial-scale mining.  These activities would permanently destroy important cultural, historic and geologic values that for so long have meant so much to so many. These resources deserve to be preserved for future generations. 

  • Conglomerate Mesa allows for unconfined recreation and solitude. Accessed by foot or a challenging 4×4 wash, the mesa provides for hunters, desert sky seekers, backpackers, campers, photographers and so much more. 
  • The history of human presence at Conglomerate Mesa runs deep. This land was home to populations long before European settlements. To this day, The Paiute and Shoshone tribes of the Owen’s Valley/Payahuunadu visit Conglomerate Mesa. The land has become an important site for annual pinyon nut harvest. More recent historic era mining features can also be found at Conglomerate Mesa. They charcoal pits are are particularly associated with early charcoal production for Cerro Gordo and smelters in the Owens Valley. Also, an old trade route called the Historic Keeler-Death Valley trail traverses the north end of the mesa and dates back to the late 1800’s.
  • Conglomerate Mesa is an oasis for a number of sensitive and rare desert plants. For instance, the Mesa is a Joshua Tree woodland and oasis for the species. Conglomerate Mesa provides a place for Joshua Trees to thrive as we begin to lose this iconic species at lower elevations.
  • Conglomerate Mesa is geologically significant, providing an unusually complete record that is key to unraveling the evolution of the continental edge of the southwestern US.  This record would be destroyed forever by open-pit mining and cannot be made right through back filling or reclamation. 
  • Conglomerate Mesa is designated as California Desert National Conservation Land (CDNCL) and protected by the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). These lands are to be managed by the BLM for the “benefit of current and future generations” while supporting the conservation and recreation values of the landscape. Conglomerate Mesa is a test of this plan. The procedures that either permit or deny exploration and the larger mine will set precedent for future mines on CDNCL and DRECP land.
What We’re Doing About It

Friends of the Inyo has been at the front of this battle every step of the way. At this stage, social pressure is our main tool in keeping companies at bay. FOI is leading trips and educating the public while we strive for permanent protection of the Mesa. We encourage you to join us! The Conglomerate Mesa newsletter is the best way to stay up to date on the latest information regarding the gold mining threat, outings, and the permanent protection campaign.

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Updates

Anniversary of California Desert Protection Act

A special day for the CDPA October 31st, 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act. The act that established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and 69 wilderness areas. While the National Parks are certainly highlights of the act, it also protected places like Mal Pais Mesa Wilderness and Suprise Canyon Wilderness.  In total, the California Desert Protection Act increased protection for 8.6 million acres of the California desert. The incredible work of inspired citizens, Senator Feinstein, conservation groups, agency partners, cities, counties, recreation groups, and so many more allow…

New Company Interested in Mining Conglomerate Mesa

In April 2019, the BLM State Office upheld the Perdito Project environmental assessment that approves exploratory drilling via helicopter access at Conglomerate Mesa. This means exploratory drilling could begin anytime. While there is no company currently positioned to carry out the exploration, Friends of the Inyo recently learned that a company has visited the area and is interested in leasing the claims. That company is K2 Gold, based in Vancouver, Canada. K2 Gold is an exploration-focused mining company with many ongoing projects in the Yukon Territory and Alaska. They appear to have the resources to execute the Perdito Plan of…

2019 BioBlitz at Conglomerate Mesa

On the weekend of May 10th, Friends of the Inyo teamed up with the California Native Plant Society, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and volunteers to document the flora and fauna of Conglomerate Mesa. While preparing for the trip, the weather seemed to want to play their cards close to the vest and hide what was in store for the weekend. A changing forecast of rain, partly to fully clouded skies, to sunshine led us to question whether or not we would make it up to the rugged roads to the Mesa… To our surprise, when everyone arrived Saturday, the…