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The West 2000 Page 11
Although large corporations control most production, the lure
to individuals of finding a strike is as evident in mining as
in other resource development. In the mining state of Nevada,
for example, nearly 80 percent of all claimants hold between one
and 20 claims, as opposed to the 36,000 claims held by nine large
|Other Department of Interior actions, however, have concentrated
on imposing restrictions to mining claims in the West and demanding
higher royalties from existing mines. Both actions would override
aspects of the 1872 Mining Law with executive authority not subject
to congressional approval. This is in contrast to actions taken
by other nations, including emerging Third World countries, to
eliminate barriers to exploration and production of their mineral
When the Grand Staircase Escalante region of Utah was declared a National Heritage Site in 1996 by President Clinton, access was prohibited to an estimated $2 billion in exceptionally high grade coal. The need for such coal required U.S. industry to begin importing it from Indonesia.
In just the last year, the federal government issued 52 notices of land withdrawal covering 2.3 million acres of the West that were closed to mining exploration.
Even with the strictest environmental regulations and controls in the world, the United States is estimated to contain a large percent of the worlds resources for mineral products, metallic minerals and fuel reserves. Coal reserves alone are estimated to contain 400 years of fuel energy.
The United States is still the worlds second largest producer of gold, next only to South Africa. Both gold and silver production in the U.S. reached record levels in 1997. Yet by all accounts, mining has touched less than one-quarter percent of all U.S. land.
By figures of the government itself, each American relies on 46,000 pounds of new mined materials, including 7,500 pounds of coal energy, each year.
As a nature-loving club, long before it became a pressure group, John Muirs Sierra Club believed that the more Americans who could participate in the enjoyment of nature, the better the chances for preserving it from other uses. A Stanley Steamer made it into Yosemite Valley in 1900, the first of what has since become an overwhelming flood of motorized visitors to the park. In recent years, others have sought more solitary experiences with nature on roads and trails suitable to off-road vehicles (ORVs) and motorized bikes. They too have a club in the half-a-million-member Blue Ribbon Coalition, but theirs is so far a losing battle to federal actions that have literally dug tank-trap trenches through previously traveled forest roads, cutting off all wheeled access.
|John Muir would surely be appalled at how loved is his Yosemite Valley today. He might be alarmed as well by the disturbance of motorized vehicles finding their way deeper and deeper into the forests. But its an open question about whether even Muir would favor locking up more than 40 million acres of public land in the West from use by any except those who come on foot, and then, only by permission.|