By Jora Fogg, Friends of the Inyo Policy Director and Bodie Hills Conservation Partnership Campaign Coordinator
(Photos/Graphics Top to Bottom: Downloadable Map – U.S. Geological Survey; Dry Lakes Plateau – Bob Wick, BLM; Dry Lakes Plateau – John Dittli)
There is good news on the ongoing effort to protect the Bodie Hills from perennial mining threats and to elevate the priorities of the native community in Bridgeport.
Short-Term Temporary Protection
On February 25th the California State Lands Commission voted to authorize a temporary three-year moratorium on accepting and considering mineral prospecting permits and lease applications on 480 acres (known as Section 16) of state school lands in the Bodie Hills.
Although these lands are in private ownership, the subsurface mineral estate is owned by the state. And because the SLC is mandated to produce revenue from state school lands for the State Teachers Retirement Fund, SLC staff must now conduct a needs assessment of the Section 16 parcel to determine if there are enough environmental and tribal cultural values to outweigh the Commission’s statutory mandate.
There are several springs, as well as two creeks, Rough and Bodie, adjacent to the Dry Lakes Plateau, where Section 16 is located. Due to these reliable water sources that support people, wildlife and rich, varied vegetation, ongoing hunting and gathering activities in the area date back 8,000 to 10,000 years, and the plateau and surrounding area contain a high number of archaeological sites.
In addition to the known sites and features, the SLC parcel and surrounding area hold great potential for further scientific research.
Possible Permanent Protection
The National Register of Historic Places, administered by the National Park Service, is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation and is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.
Already there is a portion of the Dry Lakes Plateau that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (3,340 acres) that was added to the National Register in 2002. With this precedent, and based on a request from the Section 16 landowner and the Bridgeport Indian Colony, the California State Lands Commission also voted to pass a resolution supporting an amendment to the existing National Register’s archaeological district that would add this parcel to the National Register. If the National Register addition is approved, this will factor into the needs assessment and may ultimately lead to the SLC adopting a permanent moratorium on mining at Section 16.
Why Permanent Protection is Important
The threat to the cultural values of the dry lakes plateau is real. Mining companies have expressed interest in mineral prospecting and development of this parcel of Bodie Hills over the years (in 1984, 1999, 2007, 2014, and most recently in 2019). This temporary moratorium and the potential expansion of the National Register to allow for permanent protection are both positive steps towards protecting the Bodie Hills in perpetuity.
Such actions by the state also support Governor Newsom’s executive order on climate and biodiversity (EO N-82-20), in which he commits to protect California’s biodiversity, expand equitable access to nature’s benefits, and conserve places that help California achieve climate resilience and/or carbon neutrality.
The thanks and credit for this important work goes to various members of the Bodie Hills Conservation Partnership, which includes the Bridgeport Indian Colony and Bridgeport community members.