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Trump administration opens millions of acres of California desert to mining
Original source: Desert Sun

The California desert is the latest target of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's campaign to promote resource extraction on public lands across the West.

Zinke's Interior Department said this week it would allow mining on 1.3 million acres, or more than 2,000 square miles, across the California desert, reversing an Obama-era effort to protect those lands. Vast swaths of Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments were similarly opened to mining this month, following President Trump's decision to dramatically reduce the size of those monuments.

In California, the areas that will be open to mining include low desert lands bordering Joshua Tree National Park in Riverside County, high desert areas north of Pioneertown in San Bernardino County, lands flanking Death Valley National Park in Inyo County, and huge stretches of eastern Imperial County. Starting March 9, mining companies looking for rare-earth metals, gold, sand and other minerals can stake claim to those areas.

The opening of those places to mining follows the Trump administration's announcement last week that it would reconsider an Obama-era plan to protect millions of acres of public land in the California desert. The Interior Department said it hopes to allow more solar and wind farms, off-road vehicle driving, mining and grazing on those lands, which are home to desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, Joshua trees and other iconic species.

The California desert plan was the result of a decade-long effort by state and federal officials to strike the right balance between conservation, renewable energy projects and recreational activities like off-roading across 10 million acres of federal land, spanning seven counties. Conservationists see Zinke's decision to allow mining on some of those lands as a sign the Trump administration may unwind the entire desert plan, throwing the future of the region's treasured landscapes and fragile ecosystems into doubt.

Mariana Maguire, an associate director for conservation at the Conservation Lands Foundation, called Zinke's actions "a real slap in the face to the state of California, to local input and to a process that actually worked in achieving a balanced result."

"This opening up is just a huge example of hypocrisy and a huge waste of time in taxpayer dollars," said Maguire, who lived in the town of Joshua Tree until late last year.

President Trump has made resource extraction on public lands a top priority, repeatedly promising to achieve American "energy dominance" by cutting regulations that block coal mining and oil and gas drilling. He also signed an executive order on mining and mineral production in December, calling for federal officials to develop "a strategy to reduce the nation's reliance on critical minerals" imported from other countries.


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