Fourth time’s a charm? Wilderness advocates and outdoor recreation enthusiasts were hoping so when they appeared before the Board of Supervisors in Mono County on Aug. 2 to ask them to oppose a proposed resolution that would release the Bodie Wilderness Study Area (WSA) to corporate polluters.
The resolution also asked the Board to endorse a bill in Congress that is the biggest attack on our nation’s wild lands: H.R. 1581, Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, or the Great Outdoors Giveaway.
Both actions would open up this scenic and pristine area to gold mining. A multinational mining company, Electrum has lobbied unsuccessfully for the past four years to get these wild lands released to facilitate its industrial development of a gold mine in this incredible area, a place where pronghorn antelope roam and sage grouse strut.
It was the fourth time that the Board considered a Bodie WSA release in less than a year! Last fall, Rep. Buck McKeon introduced legislation in Congress to release the Bodie WSA. The Wilderness Society, our partners and local community members worked tirelessly on the ground to fight the bill, and it failed to garner Mono County’s support. The bill subsequently died in Congress. But this past spring, the Bodie matter was considered two more times - and not acted upon - by the Board.
This go-round, Mono County received more than 3,000 letters from across California from citizens asking the County to help preserve the Bodie Hills.
The Boardroom was packed with wilderness supporters. Testimony from those opposed to mining was passionate and well-reasoned. Several local residents of Bridgeport, the closest community to Bodie, spoke against mining and in favor of a possible national monument. Others spoke about the international tourists that cherish Mono County’s wild places and open spaces.
A local paper, the Mammoth Times, editorialized against a Bodie wild lands release and McCarthy’s bill. And Michael Kowalski, the Chairman and CEO of Tiffany & Co., wrote a heartfelt op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle opposing the Great Outdoors Giveaway and opening up the Bodie Hills to mining. The Bodie Hills, he wrote, “have a long-term cultural and ecological value beyond today’s price of gold.”
In the end, the Board took no action on either the Bodie Hills or the Great Outdoors Giveaway. Advocates were gratified but simultaneously disappointed that this issue remains in limbo here. For Mono County, whose marketing slogan is “Wild By Nature,” many citizens wonder when the county will “just say no” to open pit gold mining and say yes to that which sustains us – our spectacular and diverse wild lands.
TWS and our partners will continue to advocate for the protection of the Bodie Hills. Visit www.bodiehills.org to learn more about our partnership with others to protect this special region of the golden state.