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More Gold for California

A small town by the name of Bodie in California is amidst a political battle over easing restrictions on land use surrounding the town such that gold can be mined. Land around the town is established as a “wilderness study area,” which Wikipedia defines as:

A wilderness study area (WSA) contains undeveloped United States federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, and managed to preserve its natural conditions. WSAs are not included in the National Wilderness Preservation System until the United States Congress passes wilderness legislation.

Legislation pending in Congress would remove this status for lands that the federal government had deemed “inappropriate for wilderness status.” The town seems somewhat divided over the mine, though a committee advising the board suggested that they support overturning the wilderness designation:

“It shouldn’t be looked at as a weird thing to mine in a mining area,” said Supervisor Tim Hansen, who added that the region needs the mining jobs. Mono County’s unemployment rate was 12.9% in June, compared with 12.1% statewide.

Mr. Hansen, who owns a business that harvests brine shrimp for sale to seafood cultivators, uses himself as an example. When the shrimp business slowed in 2009 and Mr. Hansen was laid off from his other job on a road crew, he spent four months before he was elected supervisor working for Cougar driving a water truck for the mine-exploration project.

At a February meeting of the board of supervisors, more than 100 people argued over the return of mining. Some supported the project for the jobs it could create. Others expressed concern over its potential environmental impact. The supervisors decided not to take a stance.

The issue returned this month when a committee advising the board said it should support removing the wilderness designation. The main impetus was the restrictions the designation can put on activities like grazing and removing timber for firewood, said Jan Huggins, vice chairman of the panel.

It seems like a no-brainer to support mining in the area, given the high unemployment rate and because the area isn’t in anyway ecologically sensitive — indeed, it has a number of abandoned gold mines that were in operation over a century ago!

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