BRIGGS MINE GOLD OPINION - BOB ELLIS
The following article I wrote after my first visit to the Briggs Mine in 1994. It was published in the Winter 1995 Issue of The Survivor, Desert Survivor's Quarterly Journal. It still seems relevant.
A more recent rant about gold follows.
THE CROSS OF GOLD - ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER
OR "LET'S TURN GOLD INTO
PART ONE - MANLY FALLS
Last summer, while browsing the remaindered books at a local bookstore, I came across "Death Valley in '49" by William Manly. It was a reprint of the 1895 publication of the reminiscences of a true hero. I had never really followed the story of the "Manly Party" and their escape from Death Valley on the way to the gold fields. I hadn't yet explored the southern Panamints where the events took place. However, the book was only $3.00 and I thought I might get around to it someday so I brought it home.
This young man and his companion volunteered to hike from near Furnace Creek in Death Valley, over the Panamint Range, over the Slate Range, through the El Paso Mountains, across the West Mojave, over Cajon Pass to the nearest ranchos near San Bernardino to get help for the families stranded in Death Valley. It took two weeks with little water or food, few trails, and an incredible amount of endurance. They got a few horses and supplies, turned around, took two more weeks to get back over the desert and mountains to bring help to those still left behind. Then they turned around, organized the family groups and assisted the entire company's march back over the same route. They weren't related to anyone, they weren't paid, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
The book is written in a old-fashioned style which makes it so engaging. I had been over some of the territory and wanted to explore further, especially in the Panamints and around Manly Fall. A wonderful sketch in the book shows the lowering of oxen by rope down the dry fall as they made their way down Redlands Canyon. I was sorry that I had missed Dave McMullen's trip to the area a couple years ago.
PART TWO - BRIGGS MINE
About two years ago, mining expert Stan Haye gave a talk to the Desert Survivors Issues group about heap leach cyanide gold mining practices. He mentioned a proposal for an open pit mine in the southern Panamint Valley and said he was watching the project closely. In October word arrived that the draft Environmental impact report for the Briggs Mine at the mouth of Redlands Canyon was open for comment. At the annual meeting Desert Survivors general counsel Doug Kari said he had submitted a detailed comment criticizing the proposal. He mentioned that the mine would completely dig out Manly Falls leaving an enormous hole in the mountain.
On Thanksgiving I visited to Panamint Valley. After passing north through Trona and turning east toward the "ghost town" of Ballarat, there were a couple of small signs along the road. "STOP BRIGGS MINE" "NO ACTION ON BRIGGS PROJECT" Three men who seemed to be the current population of Ballarat were happy to talk about the Briggs proposal. They wanted it stopped and talked about the impacts of numbers of huge trucks grinding through the no-longer-ghost town. Tourists don't go to the ghost town of Rhyolite much anymore since a monster gold mine is tearing out the mountain next door. They also talked about the rip-off of public lands both in minerals from the mountains and from the possible nitrate reserves in the dry lake bed below. They were well acquainted with the history of the Manly party and displayed the book "Escape From Death Valley," a historical investigation of the Manly rescue. The store owner said he had made up flyers protesting the mine to give to visitors and had gone to the Death Valley 49'ers Encampment in mid-November to spread the word. He said he was the only speaker against the mine at a recent public hearing in Ridgecrest. He felt that the company and the BLM was purposely keeping the public poorly informed to get the project approval through before many people understood what was happening.
Several miles south Redlands Canyon cuts through the main Panamint Range. Looking up from the dirt road, Manly Falls is immediately visible, a sheer drop which looked tough to climb even from our vantage point a mile away. The depressing view, however, is the sidecuts made at several levels scarring across the lower face of the mountain on either side of the Falls. It seems as if they purposely ravaged the area so that people would let them go ahead and dig it out. The BLM had let them rip and cut to drill holes to see how much gold-bearing mineral was present. Even if a NO ACTION alternative is chosen, the current damage will be hard to repair.
A man was sitting in his pick-up truck in front of the mine. He said he was paid by Briggs to sit there Thanksgiving Day to keep people away from the project drill rigs and other company property. The falls were off-limits according to him and we couldn't go any farther. He said that he had worked for Briggs for a number of years and was looking forward to work getting started here. He lived in Trona and would be heading back there to participate in the Thanksgiving dinner cook-out at the Trona Elks Club, an annual event.
A little further down the road we turned east into Goler Wash, a narrow twisting canyon with an old jeep road that goes over the Panamints at Mengel Pass and down into Stripped Butte Valley in Death Valley National Park. As we drove, the new Manly Peak Wilderness Area was on our north; it surrounds the mine area on three sides. This is prime desert bighorn territory. However, a special paragraph in the new Desert Protection Act specifically says that no buffer zones will be allowed for any wilderness approved by this law. In addition, the nearby Slate Range WSA was dropped and the Middle Park WSAs was not included in the Desert bill; both contain numerous additional Briggs mining claims. The company has a lot of influence. It even issued a press release on November 1st:
"BRIGGS GOLD PROJECT OF CANYON RESOURCES BENEFITS FROM PASSAGE OF CALIFORNIA DESERT PROTECTION ACT"
PART THREE - GOLD INTO FUR
I don't know if this project can be stopped. I do know we must keep fighting to stop further depredation of the desert west by rapacious gold mining companies. The current method is to point out the impacts of their proposals and try to lessen the damage. Efforts to reform the 1872 mining law went down to defeat in last year's Congress, they will get nowhere next year due to the new Republican majority.
Maybe it is time to try something new. Twenty years ago people concerned with the exploitation of endangered animals for their fur started a movement to UN-fashionable-ize fur coats. Now days few people feel comfortable wearing even fake fur jackets since years of occasional publicity has made most of us aware that it's not "politically correct" to wear animal fur.
Why can't we do this for gold?? Most of the gold that is mined today is used for personal jewelry. Its value is only in personal decoration and gratification of personal desire. If a significant number of people decided that they didn't think gold was the right thing to wear anymore, then they would not buy it. This would set into motion the old economic rule of supply and demand. The price of gold would drop as supply increased. The mining companies would get less for their efforts and in most cases they could not afford continue these monster open pit projects. The western US would be gradually less ravaged by these rapacious gold digging operations and some measure of recovery might begin in the now-blighted areas.
It happened before. The west was first attacked by "mountain men" in the 1830s&40s who trapped most of the beaver out of all the creeks in the western states. Just before the beaver were exterminated, the fashion for beaver hats subsided and the trappers had to find other ways to make a living. Fashion ruled then and it can again.
We need actors, playwrights, publicists, and society mavens to help make gold "uncool." Things move faster now. Maybe in ten years we can get gold out!
Bob Ellis 12/7/1994
Illustration from William Manley's "Death Valley In '49"
From the Winter 2000 Issue of The Survivor, Quarterly Journal of Desert Survivors
THE CROSS OF GOLD
US and Major Countries Keep Price of Gold High, Cause Continuing Massive Environmental Damage in US Deserts and Developing Nations Worldwide.
"You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."
"An affliction that tries oneís virtue, steadfastness, or patience"
Websterís Collegiate Dictionary, one of several definitions of "cross"
We are afflicted, here as the century changes, among other things by GOLD. One hundred years ago William Jennings Bryan attempted to break the US economy away from a gold standard and failed. In the first half of this century the US stock-piled gold bars in Fort Knox Kentucky to back its currency. Then by mid-century the US had supposedly gone off the gold standard, but still retained the gold bars sitting in Fort Knox. They are still there. Gold bars are sitting in the vaults of most large countries in the world. They have all left the gold standard but all are sitting on tons and tons of gold bars.
The impact of this policy is to maintain an artificially high price for gold on the world market. Even though gold has dropped from $400/ounce two years ago to the below $300/ounce at present, this value is still too high. Various governments would like to sell some of their stock-piled gold bars, but as a result of a fierce lobbying campaign over the past year, have held back on sales. This has stabilized the price of gold between $275 and $300 per ounce for now but at the cost of continuing environmental and cultural damage. Rapacious international gold mining companies, fed by over-rich stock market speculators, march through the world ripping up previously natural un-developed environments to satisfy a subsidized craving for this metal.
In the past 20 years we have seen the great basin desert of north eastern Nevada ravaged by this "industry." We have seen certain unique desert areas of Southern California destroyed or threatened by this scourge. More recently the impacts on South American and Asian nations are now coming to light. Polluted rivers, destroyed ecosystems, mercury contaminated mining communities, and political corruption are infecting the third world as the pressure to find gold for less dollars per ounce intensifies.
Its time to stop this. Its time to take the initiative. We canít just not buy gold ourselves. We have to begin to disparage gold. Eighty percent of gold goes for jewelry. If it were not fashionable to wear or better yet embarrassing to wear, less would be mined, prices would go down, governments could sell their stockpiles, and our environments could then take a breath and get ready to withstand the next impact our human species will no doubt generate to attack them.
Hate Gold Dis Gold Dog Gold Rag Gold Putdown Gold Badmouth Gold Stomp Gold Spit on Gold Do Not Pity Gold Sabotage Gold Undermine Gold
This morning I smiled, the price of gold went down $5/ounce. I look forward to tomorrow.
Mineral Policy Center http://www.mineralpolicy.org/
Project Underground http://www.moles.org/
Gold Institute: http://www.goldinstitute.org/
A rant, by Bob Ellis