Timberland Resources Corporation is proposing to drill seven exploratory drillholes on a set of unpatented lode mining claims in the Conglomerate Mesa area of the Southern Inyo Mountains on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management's Ridgecrest Field Office. Through an Environmental Assessment Timberland is seeking to re-establish 3.4 miles of road that was reclaimed in 2000 by a previous mining operation.
In the EA which is currently open for public comment, the BLM specifically disallowed the analysis of an alternative that would have left a permanent road for the recreating public rather than reclaiming the road yet again. A permanent road would promote recreational usage of an area that is under-served by motorized access.
In the eight years since the Conglomerate Mesa Road was last reclaimed the California desert has seen a transformation in the management of our public lands that has affected recreational access. A new and contracted route network resulted from the creation of neighboring Death Valley National Park.
Also since then, hundreds of popular public access roads were closed within the 71 newly created desert wildernesses and East Mojave National Preserve. The BLM Desert District has implemented five new management plans that eliminated an untold number of public access routes. And more than a hundred public access routes were lost to the expansion of Fort Irwin.
In short, recreational access to our public lands has become a rapidly shrinking commodity here in the California desert.
And yet, the pressures grow. The Marine Corps has its sights set on the popular Johnson Valley recreation area for what it calls a necessary expansion. Senator Dianne Feinstein is floating a new desert wilderness proposal crafted by the Wilderness Coalition.
In considering a permanent road to Conglomerate Mesa the BLM has an opportunity to improve public access to an area that is under served by designated routes, and do so in an environmentally acceptable way.
Much of Conglomerate Mesa Road is already designed by the BLM as open route S2978. Timberland's proposal would re-establish the remaining two-thirds of the road. The road would be properly contoured, would avoid culturally significant sites, and would have no affect on sensitive resources.
I urge the BLM to allow the alternative for a permanent road to be considered in the EA for Timberland's proposed exploratory drilling project.