long valley image

Long Valley, with Mammoth Mountain in the background. 

Groups say drilling will negatively impact wildlife, more

Local and regional conservation groups sued the U.S. Forest Service late last week to stop exploratory drilling in the Long Valley area of Mono County near Hot Creek, saying the proposed drilling, approved by the Inyo National Forest, threatens an endangered fish and a dwindling population of bi-state sage grouse.

There is no mine proposed at this time, the U.S. Forest Service said, and if the mining company, called Kore, Inc., does propose a gold mine, it would be subject to years of environmental analysis.

However, the Inyo National Forest did allow the company to move forward on exploratory drill holes, as noted below.

“Long Valley is an important place that needs conservation protection, not a gold mine,” said Wendy Schneider, executive director of Friends of the Inyo, which joined in the lawsuit. “The area provides critical wildlife habitat for struggling species, it is culturally significant to local tribes, and important for the recreational tourism economy in Mammoth. Further, the water in area is already overcommitted. Drilling activities will add to that burden and introduce the possibility of toxic contamination. The drilling proposal was strongly opposed by a majority in the community. The Forest Service should not have approved this proposal.”

“There couldn't be a worse project proposed in this sensitive area, and the Forest Service’s approval of this project sets a dangerous precedent for our region,” said Kris Hohag, local tribal citizen and Eastern Sierra Senior Organizer for the Sierra Club. “Kore Mining is taking advantage of the flawed 1872 Mining Act that allows mining projects to profit from the destruction of our environment, and here in the eastern Sierra that means threats to our unique wildlife and the health of our water and cultural resources.”

“This drilling project will cause exactly the kind of noise and commotion that make bi-state sage grouse abandon their habitat. The Forest Service should absolutely know better,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Reno, which sent out a news release last week stating its intent to join with the local groups to file the lawsuit. “It’s appalling that the Forest Service is willing to push these beautiful dancing birds closer to extinction for a toxic mine. We’ll do everything possible to prevent another species from being lost forever, but we urgently need the court’s help.”

The Oct. 22 lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, says the Forest Service violated federal environmental laws by ignoring the potential damage from the Kore Mining project to Inyo National Forest’s Long Valley area, including draining the streams where endangered Owens tui chubs live. The fish and its habitat are protected under state and federal endangered species laws.

“Degrading the Owens tui chub’s streams threatens this endemic fish, which is already on the brink of extinction,” said Laura Cunningham, California director at Western Watersheds Project. “The Forest Service needs to take a hard look at the potential for exploratory drilling to irreversibly damage hot springs hydrology as well as breeding and nesting habitat for dwindling populations of the bi-state sage grouse.”

Bi-state sage grouse, whose numbers have drastically declined in the past decade, live next to the 12 proposed drilling pads, threatening the birds’ survival, according to the news release. 

“The Inyo National Forest conducted the most cursory of environmental reviews — a categorical exclusion — which doesn’t allow any public input and concluded no harm would be done by the project,” the news release states. “Categorical exclusions are supposed to be reserved for minor federal projects that will not harm the environment like rebuilding hiking trails, not drilling for gold in sensitive habitats.     

“Exploratory drilling is the precursor to a full-blown gold mine that could span more than 1,800 acres of this sensitive area in the eastern Sierra Nevada,” the news release states. “In addition to destroying habitat for endangered species and sucking vast amounts of water from ancient aquifers, a gold mine would industrialize a landscape renowned for its majestic and scenic vistas and pollute pristine public lands,” the news release states. 

The groups are represented by Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project, Lisa Belenky of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Talasi Brooks of Western Watersheds Project, the groups said in the news release.

The gold exploration project is proposed on land in Long Valley, California, with high cultural value to the Kutzadika'a Tribe of Northern Paiute, as well as to other Paiute and Shoshone people, they said in the news release.

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