"There’s gold up there and the world needs gold," Stephen Swatton, president of international mining company K2 Gold, says of an area of desert terrain next to California's Death Valley National Park. But opponents including the Sierra Club and native tribes say the plan to mine for gold in the Conglomerate Mesa area—still scarred from silver mining 150 years ago—would destroy an area rich in wildlife and ancient cultural sites, the Los Angeles Times reports. They warn that K2, which owns mineral claims on almost 15,000 acres of federal land, aims to build a network of service roads and an open-pit mine that would use tons of cyanide a day to extract gold from crushed ore. The company argues that a mine would boost the economy of a region hit hard by the drop in tourism during the pandemic.
The Sierra Club says the Conglomerate Mesa area is a "Rosetta Stone" with clues to the evolution of the ancient former coastline, with fossils of species that are found nowhere else. Environmentalists also warn that the project would require the pumping of millions of gallons of water from desert aquifers. The Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe, meanwhile, says K2's characterization of its exploratory mesa drill sites as having "low archeological sensitivity" is wrong and disrespectful, the Times reports. The dispute comes as Congress debates changes to the 1872 law that allows companies to mine for gold and other "hardrock minerals" on public lands without compensating taxpayers. (Read more mining stories.)